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Four takeaways from Lok Sabha's Lalitgate debate

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: August 13, 2015 15:24 IST
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'One won't find a lawyer in any court in the country willing to believe that a talented lawyer like Bansuri Swaraj would appear in a case for free, that too in a metropolis like Delhi.'

These and other Sheela Bhatt takeways from the August 12 proceedings in the Lok Sabha.

1. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was at her acerbic best when Rahul Gandhi, the stubborn and angry Congress vice-president, gave her the opportunity on a platter to hit out.

Swaraj hardly presented a defence of her secret actions -- of using her official position, to help family friend Lalit Modi get a visa to travel out of England -- but she shredded the Congress ruling family's reputation into a thousand pieces.

The Gandhis won't forget Sushma Swaraj's scathing personal attack in a long time. She asked Rahul Gandhi to ask his mother (party president Sonia Gandhi) how much money they made from (Ottavio) Quattrocchi (in the Bofors deal in the 1980s). She asked Rahul to find out why (former Union Carbide chairman) Walter Anderson (whose company was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy) was whisked away from the country. And why (then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's friend) Adil Shahryar was released from a US prison in a quid pro quo for Anderson's release.

Since Rahul is new to the game of political spin which Sushma and Arun Jaitley have mastered over the years, the Lok Sabha saw the Congress strategy of agreeing to a debate over Lalit Modi failing completely. Sonia Gandhi heard out Swaraj's speech with a stunned expression.

The minister was all political, without presenting any new facts -- or mentioning the truth -- about her role in the Lalit Modi affair. The need of the hour for her was to deliver a brutal political punch to the re-emerging leader of the Congress party, which she did with gusto.

Rediff.com spoke to a lawyer closely associated with the case related to Lalit Modi's passport in the Delhi high court in which Sushma Swaraj's lawyer-daughter Bansuri was one of the lawyers who appeared for Modi. Bansuri Swaraj is a law graduate from Oxford and a bar-at-law from Inner Temple.

In her speech Sushma Swaraj admitted that Bansuri was indeed Lalit Modi's lawyer in the passport case, but tried to underplay her daughter's role by emphasising that she was merely the 'ninth lawyer' among a battery of lawyers appearing for Modi. Sushma Swaraj claimed her daughter did not receive any payment -- in other words, she was appearing pro bono in the case.

In such cases it is the litigant who decides his legal team. Parag Tripathy is the senior lawyer in Lalit Modi's case with two assistants. The solicitor's two assistants are present as well. Bansuri Swaraj appeared for Lalit Modi not as a junior of a senior lawyer or a law firm related to the case, but of her own volition, says the lawyer connected with this case.

One won't find a lawyer in any court in the country willing to believe that a talented lawyer like Bansuri Swaraj would appear in a case for free, that too in a metropolis like Delhi.

2. Rahul Gandhi gained a few points by capturing television time, but lost badly in strategy. He wanted to act boldly when the Parliament session began. There is no doubt he is struggling to reinvent, repackage, himself and that he is rekindling the hopes of his party and supporters. But without a holistic approach to handle the political games that are played during a Parliament session, Rahul appeared trapped.

His intentions are understandable. In Parliament a war of nerves takes place over ideas and ideals, so the low number of Congress seats cannot be an impediment. When the Congress is passing through the disgrace of defeat, Rahul needed to show muscle to lift the spirits of his partymen and to other anti-Modi forces, but by not calculating the end game of what goes on inside that august building, he has fallen flat.

Rahul started out very well when the session started, but he failed in selecting the method and subjects to fight over.

Why did he take the 'resign first, debate later' stand till the fag end of the Monsoon session of Parliament and then, just 48 hours before the session was about to end, agree to a debate when Sushma Swaraj was sitting pretty, waiting to shred his family's reputation?

How many hours of Parliament and money have been wasted over his political stand that Swaraj must resign before any debate takes place?

When he changed his mind after taking a tough stand, the Bharatiya Janata Party walked in with its usual weaponry of rhetoric and a fierce no-holds-barred attack.

If a debate had been held on the Vyapam scam or the rising terror attacks in Kashmir, Rahul Gandhi would have something substantial to show. His partymen's favourite barb of '56- inch-chest' aimed at Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have worked in a terrorism debate. A serious debate over the series of human tragedies in the Vyapam case would have shamed the BJP.

But for the Congress, how was Lalit Modi, now the fallen hero of the Indian Premier League, more important than the total mess in the Indian education system as evidenced in Madhya Pradesh?

Of course, Rahul Gandhi has improved inside Parliament. He no longer looks like the reluctant leader that he has been for the last 10 years. He made a speech without any new facts about the Lalit Modi affair, but delivered his short take with fury and animation.

Rahul Gandhi is clearly unhappy at the way partymen have been handling parliamentary affairs and intra-party politics inside Parliament. His revelation of what transpired between him and Sushma Swaraj suggests that he is breaking the traditions of stealth, secret deals, craftiness and the unwritten codes that drive politics, but it will not take much time before the Delhi system changes him.

3. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who has for years shared cold vibes with Sushma Swaraj, came to her defence. His short speech was a full-throttle attack, especially when he pointed out, 'For generations, a family that has dominated the politics of this country has not worked for a living. They have learnt the art of living comfortably without working.'

4. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's absence during the debate over the adjournment motion is not helping parliamentary etiquette, his haughty style vying with Rahul Gandhi's stubbornness.

By not giving an inch in actual political terms, Narendra Modi showed Rahul Gandhi that to re-set the Congress, he will have to do more than adopt an easy and lazy way out like stalling Parliament.

"If the Congress fares badly, which is quite expected, in Bihar," a senior Congress leader who was once close to then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh told Rediff.com, "then what will be our strategy in the next session of Parliament? Who will take us seriously?"

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Sheela Bhatt / Rediff.com in New Delhi
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