New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s took to Twitter on Sunday to defend herself against the charge of acting improperly in intervening with the British government to ensure the fugitive former IPL chief Lalit Modi was given travel documents on “humanitarian grounds” last year.
What she did not disclose was a potential conflict of interest her critics are bound to highlight in arguing that her decision to intervene could have been influenced by considerations other than humanitarianism.
Swaraj’s daughter, Bansuri Swaraj, represented Lalit Modi before the Delhi High Court when the scandal-tainted former cricket administrator challenged the revocation of his passport by the government of India. Bansuri Swaraj was part of the team of lawyers who worked with UU Lalit, senior advocate at the time. Lalit was made a judge of the Supreme Court in August 2014.
It is also not clear why Swaraj did not probe the need for Lalit Modi to travel to Portugal to sign consent papers. His wife was clearly not unconscious or otherwise unable to sign any consent papers herself. Moreover, it appears written consent may not even be a requirement under Portugese law.
The help Sushma Swaraj provided Lalit Modi has come to light following a story in a London newspaper, the Sunday Times, which drew upon a trail of emails involving British MP Keith Vaz. The emails, believed to have been illegally obtained by the former IPL boss’s rivals in the cricketing world, have also been accessed by the Times Now channel.
According to BJP sources, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has known about this ticking time-bomb for about a week now. Despite Sushma Swaraj not enjoying the closest of relations with the PM or other senior ministers like Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi and the BJP appear to have decided it is wiser to weather the shockwaves reverberating from the government’s first real scandal rather than feed the external affairs minister to the wolves.
“We want to make it clear that whatever she has done is right. We justify it and the government completely stands by her,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh said after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the controversy. Swaraj also reportedly talked to the Prime Minister.
On Sunday afternoon, BJP president Amit Shah made a statement to journalists describing Swaraj’s involvement in the matter as purely humanitarian and that there was “no big moral issue” involved. He said her decision to not stand in the way of Lalit Modi travelling from London to Portugal last year was very different from the decisions Congress-run governments had taken in the past like allowing Bofors-accused Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi or Warren Anderson of Union Carbide to leave India. “Those looking for some political outcome [from this controversy] will be disappointed,” Shah said, thereby ruling out the possibility that Swaraj would resign or be sacked.
Earlier in the day, Swaraj, in a series of tweets, today said she took a “humanitarian view” and conveyed to the British High Commissioner that they should examine Lalit Modi’s request for travel papers as per their rules and “if the British Government chooses to give travel documents” to him “that will not spoil our bilateral relations”.
Giving the chronology of events, Swaraj, who took charge of the Ministry of External Affairs on May 26, 2014, said on Twitter,
“Sometime in July 2014, Lalit Modi spoke to me that his wife was suffering from cancer and her surgery was fixed for 4th August in Portugal. He told me that he had to be present in the hospital to sign the consent papers.”He informed me that he had applied for travel documents in London and the UK Government was prepared to give him the travel documents. However, they were restrained by a UPA Government communication that this will spoil Indo-UK relations.”Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that: “British Government should examine the request of Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British Government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi that will not spoil our bilateral relations.””Keith Vaz also spoke to me and I told him precisely what I told the British High Commissioner.”I genuinely believe that in a situation such as this, giving emergency travel documents to an Indian citizen cannot and should not spoil relations between the two countries,” she said.”I may also state that only few days later, Delhi High Court quashed the UPA Government’s order impounding Lalit Modi’s passport on the ground that the said order was unconstitutional being violative of fundamental rights and he got his passport back,” Swaraj said.