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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Sushma row: A year on, Narendra Modi govt faces first big blemish on its image

In the last one year, Swaraj did stay away from the media glare and concentrated on 'Modi's vision' of 'changing India's image.'

Written by Wali Ahmad |
June 15, 2015 9:32:38 pm
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The Narendra Modi government completed its first year in office last May and each ministry went on a blitzkrieg to highlight the government’s achievements.

Sushma Swaraj and the Foreign Ministry came in for special mention from the prime minister who lauded the MEA for its rescue mission in Yemen and over all performance of the ministry. On May 31, when she was asked about the secret of her ministry’s success, Sushma Swaraj said, “Stay away from the media and do your own work.”

In the last one year, Swaraj did stay away from the media glare and concentrated on ‘Modi’s vision’ of ‘changing India’s image.’ But her admission that she helped former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi get travel documents cleared in the UK has raised a political storm and a question mark on her political career. Modi is a fugitive and a blue corner notice has been issued against him for financial irregularity. His passport had also been impounded for a Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA).

Immediately after the report hit the headlines, Sushma conceded that she had helped Lalit Modi on humanitarian grounds. Her defence was that Lalit Modi had to visit Portugal to get his wife operated upon and that he had to sign the documents at the hospital.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, Labour MP Keith Vaz had written to Sarah Rapson, head of UK Visas and Immigration, questioning an initial decision to deny Modi’s plea for travel papers. According to the paper, he said: “The foreign minister of India (Sushma Swaraj) has spoken to me, making it very clear that the Indian government have no objection to the travel document being granted. Mrs Swaraj has also spoken to Sir James Bevan who, even though he was on leave, said he would speak to the relevant person in the Home Office.”

Now she faces charges of impropriety and quid pro quo. Here is why this charge might just stick. Sushma Swaraj’s daughter Basuri was part of a legal team representing Lalit Modi in the Delhi High Court between April 2012 and August 2014. Also, according to the Sunday Times, ‘Swaraj’s husband Swaraj Kaushal, a lawyer, had contacted Modi in August and sought Vaz’s help to find a place at a British university for their nephew.’

After maintaining a conspicuous silence for few hours since the scandal broke, the party and the government threw their weight behind Swaraj, saying whatever she did was not impropriety but help extended to an Indian in foreign soil.

Though the government is standing by her, the Opposition has every reason to go for the jugular. When ministers in the UPA dispensation were facing charges of corruption and impropriety, the BJP was at the forefront demanding their removal and sacking. In 2010, Shashi Tharoor had resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs in the wake of controversy over the IPL Kochi franchise.

In 2013, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar had resigned. Bansal was involved in a controversy after the CBI caught his nephew Vijay Singla accepting Rs 90 lakh in cash as bribe for a lucrative posting for a senior Railway official. Ashwani Kumar had been in the eye of a storm for vetting the CBI report on coal block allocations.

So, the Sushma storm has come as a blessing for the beleaguered Congress. Not withstanding the corruption allegations against the Manmohan Singh government and its silence over the issue, the Congress has lapped up the issue to corner the NDA.

As of now, the government has decided to brazen it out and seems to have reneged on its poll promise of providing a corruption free reign. But doing so, it runs the risk of losing the high moral standards of governance it had so vehemently espoused in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections last year. For now, the issue may subside from public discourse, but action will shift to Parliament when it convenes for the monsoon session. And the Opposition seems all geared up.

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