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L'affaire Sushma Swaraj marks end of Modi Sarkar's honeymoon

Last updated on: June 16, 2015 18:22 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has opted to disregard details of Sushma’s questionable act for long-term personal gain, even as his government will suffer a loss of face in the short term.

Next year Amit Shah will seek a full term as BJP president, by which time his robust defence of Sushma will ensure that peace is solidified within the party office.

Right now, in Modi’s Cabinet and in the BJP, there is no challenge whatsoever to Modi’s leadership but even those leaders who have some potential, who the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh can think of backing in an unforeseen circumstance, are fast turning into damaged goods, reports Sheela Bhatt/Rediff.com.

 

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced its first real ethical test with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s impropriety in helping her family friend and scam-accused Lalit Modi.

With this incident, the government’s honeymoon is finally, finally over. It also marks the advent of the normal, Indian style of governance in the high offices of Raisina Hills where conspiracies, nepotism, crony capitalism, and corrupt ways of dealing with things in a Congress way, which includes picking up the phone to request Sir James Bevan, the British high commissioner, to help a notorious, flamboyant business tycoon like Lalit Modi, has to be tolerated by the prime minister of the day.

All editorials in the national capital’s morning dailies have attacked Swaraj for not disclosing the “conflict of interest” while helping Lalit Modi as foreign minister. The editorials say there is nothing humanitarian about her action, and there are no takers when Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah says there is no moral issue involved. The National Democratic Alliance’s relatively clean image has been tarnished.

The Hindu’s editorial put it thus: ‘All this gives the impression that the Narendra Modi government, and not merely Ms Swaraj, has been soft on Mr Lalit Modi.’ It further says, ‘Questions are being raised whether the prime minister is condoning what appears to be a case of a senior minister using her discretionary power in favour of a friend.’

Prime Minister Modi has opted to disregard details of Sushma’s questionable act for long-term personal gain, even as his government will suffer a loss of face in the short term, till the Opposition, critics and the media’s collective din dies down.         

Right now, in Modi’s Cabinet and in the BJP, there is no challenge whatsoever to Modi’s leadership but even those leaders who have some potential, who the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh can think of backing in an unforeseen circumstance, are fast turning into damaged goods.

Sushma Swaraj was slowly and silently building up her image from scratch after the L K Advani camp, to which she had always belonged, lost out completely to Modi’s frontal assault to capture the party in Goa in 2013 and eventually winning Lok Sabha election handsomely in May 2014.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has limited his own stature by talking recklessly; Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari was hit by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s adverse reference to the Purti group of companies founded by him; the Vyapam scam is too serious and will eventually engulf Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan; Chief Minister Raman Singh is fast becoming a spent force within Chhattisgarh; Vasundhara Raje has been confined to Rajasthan with the Congress reviving in the Opposition space -- and now Lalit Modi has become an unbearable liability for Sushma.

Her husband Swaraj Kaushal claims that he has held Lalit Modi’s legal brief for the last 22 years. That further establishes conclusively a conflict of interest on Sushma’s part.

Except Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, there is no one within the Union Cabinet who carries any weight whatsoever outside their office cabin. In the case of Smriti Irani and a few other ministers, they could not even get their choice of personal assistants appointed.

Sushma’s woes suit everybody in the government and the party. By extending support to her, surprisingly too fast, Amit Shah has strengthened his party and himself.

Sushma was against Modi becoming the PM, she has spoken out in the past against the IPL and cricket corruption, hinting at Jaitley’s association with it, she has been a strong adversary of Jaitley’s style of politics inside the party’s 11 Ashoka Road headquarters, she did not initially extend her political support to Modi or Amit Shah when they were facing legal troubles in police encounter cases. Still, both have extended their support to Sushma, while Jaitley has remained silent.  

Next year Amit Shah will seek a full term as party president, by which time his robust defence of Sushma will ensure that peace is solidified within the party office. If Rahul Gandhi can understand saffron politics a bit, then he would know how it is disadvantage Congress.

Amit Shah has thus tied up the loose ends in his party that were seen as softer elements by the anti-Modi forces.

That is no minor fallout from the controversy on the eve of the crucial Bihar elections. The process through which the government and the party have handled Sushma’s crisis and eventually decided support to her, shows that more than the decade-old feud between Jaitley and Swaraj has reached Modi-Shah’s court. The powerful duo has turned a crisis in the government to an advantage for their own respective positions for the future. That in the last two days Jaitley has not spoken publicly means a lot, too. It is a sign of the government and the party taking Bihar election too seriously.

The party MP from Darbhanga, Kirti Azad, Arun’s sworn enemy in the Delhi District Cricket Association, has tweeted indicating that an “asteen ka saanp” in the party is working against Sushma. Notwithstanding such tweets, Sushma will now be bound by the favour bestowed on her by PM Modi and Shah.

Also, Arvind Kejriwal is bent upon filing some kind of police case against the alleged wrongdoings at DDCA where till a couple of years back Jaitley’s writ ran, having been its president for 14 years. Azad’s quarrel with Jaitley began when he started questioning the latter’s decisions in running the DDCA; Azad has also always sided with Sushma.

Azad’s letter to Jaitley, written last year, can be used by Kejriwal.

In the middle of all this speculation, Sushma has been caught on the wrong foot while helping a fallen hero of Indian cricket.

If she had quit taking a moral call, she would have ended up in the long dark tunnel to nowhere. PM Modi’s strong position and the stability of his government would decimate Sushma, reducing her to a mere MP from Vidisha, but by compromising on standards and keeping silent, she has earned time and space.

After all,look at her powerful supporters outside the government. Mamata Banerjee, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar have all supported her in the crisis. Mamata has rebuked her party’s Suagata Roy for criticising Sushma’s action as “improper”. Such support to Sushma exposes her deep nexus with non-BJP leaders, something Modi and Shah must have taken into calculation as well.  

Now that she has the public support of the Modi-Shah duo, it would nullify the covert attack from Jaitley’s camp for the time being inside the party forum.

Jaitley, who has distanced himself slowly from the muck of cricket politics, must be smirking at all this. What a turning point in his severe political row with Sushma!        

PM Modi and Amit Shah, to save their own and their government’s public image, will finally start taking action against Lalit Modi in the pending cases against him which was not done by the Congress as it will have unearthed the all-party corruption in Indian cricket.  .

The attempt to do so maybe symbolic or real, but it is clear that the next programme will be Swachch Indian Cricket by hitting Lalit Modi who is playing hide and seek with the law.

Sheela Bhatt / Rediff.com in New Delhi
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