While IndiaN Minister of External of Affairs Sushma Swaraj’s troubles might not disappear soon, here in the United Kingdom Keith Vaz, the Labour MP for Leicester East, seems to have successfully weathered the raging storm.
Not only has the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner refused to probe the allegations against him due to lack of “sufficient evidence”, Vaz has also been re-elected the chair of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC).
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- Lalit Modi's fall from grace, his powerful backers and continuing battle with rivals
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The Sunday Times had accused Vaz of using his public position, as the chair of the HASC, to allegedly pressurise the immigration authorities to facilitate the travel papers for the IPL founder Lalit Modi.
But this is not for the first time that Vaz, the longest serving Asian MP, has risked his position to help his Indian friends. He is no stranger to the company of rich Asians, Indian money bags and Bollywood stars. He is a family friend of the Bachchans — both Amitabh and Abhishek, who helped him in the last elections in May. He took Shilpa Shetty under his wings soon after she won the Celebrity Big Brother in 2007. He is also hugely popular among his constituents.
“Because he delivers”, says Hisam Mukaddam, a former BBC journalist and one of his constituents, adding: “He is there when community needs him and yes he is a friend of India and Indians. Last year he fought hard to lift the EC ban on Indian mangoes.”
Elected to the UK parliament in 1987, Vaz is known as an effective communicator. In 1999, Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed him as the Minister for Europe in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. But his controversial association with the Hinduja brothers cut short his ministerial career.
In 2001, an opposition forced Blair to appoint Sir Anthony Hammond QC to look into the allegations that Vaz contacted the Home Office to expedite the citizenship application of one of the Hinduja brothers. It was later revealed that the Hinduja Foundation had given £1,200 to a company run by his wife, in return for helping to organise a Hinduja-sponsored reception at the House of Commons. While Vaz denied any “personal gain”, he was forced to resign from his ministerial position.
It took Vaz six years to resurrect his career. In 2007, he was appointed as the chair of HASC. Last December, his cross-party committee published a scathing report about Britain’s failing immigration system. The indictment left the Tories livid. Vaz’s supporters claim that the current storm, raked up by the Tory press, may have some linkages.
In a recent statement, Vaz alleged that “his email address may have been hacked.” He insisted that he had committed no impropriety by supporting Modi’s case.
For now it seems that the “Teflon MP” has, once again, saved his reputation. But questions remain about the need for a British MP to support someone like Modi, who faces serious charges of financial impropriety.