Copyright. All rights reserved. Ram Jethmalani. 2019.
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He is unstoppable, the ‘happening’ man, L’Enfant terrible, not only of the Indian Premier League, but also of the Indian political establishment. He has the capacity to convert a monsoon session of Parliament into a hurricane. His tweets and interviews spare no one, high or mighty, or anyone who has crossed his path or threatens to do so in future.
It all started with a news item in the Sunday Times on June 14, that Labour MP Keith Vaz had pressured UK’s top immigration official using the Indian Foreign Minister’s name to grant British travel papers to Lalit Modi, then resident in the UK, and hounded by Indian authorities. E-mails to and from Keith Vaz and Lalit Modi about grant of his travel papers and the intervention of India’s Foreign Minister, and some about helping Sushma Swaraj’s nephew secure admission in a British law school, surfaced in Times Now television channel, creating sensational headlines. The Opposition went berserk, baying for Sushma’s blood.
Rather inexplicably, what followed was a statement from Lalit Modi’s legal team that Vasundara Raje, then Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly, had also been extremely helpful. She had stated on affidavit to British authorities that she was in favour of Lalit Modi's immigration application, on the strict clause that her name will not be revealed to the Indian authorities. The opposition’s shrieks got shriller, demanding that both Sushma Swaraj and Vasundara Raje must resign. The public is well aware of how this was used as an excuse to hijack the entire monsoon session of Parliament.
There is still no information as to how private e-mails between Keith Vaz, Lalit Modi, and the Swaraj family become public. Keith Vaz says his e-mail account was hacked, and this may well be true. But hacking e-mails is a very serious criminal offence in the UK, and it is not very clear yet if he has filed any complaint in this regard.
If the mails were indeed hacked, then the first question that arises is - who is the most likely hacker? And the second - who passed them over to Sunday Times and the Times Now television channel? Answers to these questions would pinpoint the real motives for causing the political turbulence, and also who it was meant to destabilize. It does seem a little unusual that neither the media, nor politicians or informed citizens have shown any curiosity in this regard.
Lalit Modi’s statement that Rupert Murdoch is behind the present controversy because of Champions Twenty20 League conflicts appears more of a red herring. There is enough loose talk going around the Capital, that the entire Lalit Modi episode is part of a larger intrigue going on within the ruling party. If this was meant to undermine the Foreign Minister, then it is not difficult to hazard a guess regarding who her fiercest competitor is. And if this really is an intrigue engineered by him, then he perhaps did not anticipate the unexpected bite-back, despite his defence of Sushma Swaraj that he was made to give in Parliament. It was an unusual threesome. One Minister defending another with whom there is no love lost, and whose best friend is his worst enemy! Sushma would be an ideal witness to speak up, but I respect her obligation as a colleague in the same Cabinet of Ministers under the same Prime Minister.
In his recent interview to Rajdeep Sardesai in London, Lalit Modi repeatedly stated with his usual confidence and devil may care, that the Finance Minister is as deeply involved in the IPL rot and part of the ‘cricket mafia’, as are Srinivasan, Dalmia, Mathur, and Rajiv Shukla. In fact, he concludes his interview by saying that the greatest bond between the Congress and the BJP is the murky side of the IPL.
It is also a little surprising that Lalit Modi’s second interview to India Today TV has been blacked out of the Internet, though Aaj Tak seems to have put out a dubbed Hindi version of it. So too, his statements against the Finance Minister hardly find mention in the reportage, though everything else does. Does this mean that the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting or the Enforcement Directorate are flashing their iron fists to the media?
I am reminded of the long arms of censorship that reached even the Sunday Guardian, blacking out certain articles, particularly an article of mine criticizing the Finance Minister over the Black Money issue. No prizes for guessing who the mastermind behind it was, or the conspirators that were used. I left the Sunday Guardian, of which I was Board Chairman for years, but printed my article nevertheless as an advertisement in the Indian Express just a few days later.
The crisis seems to have blown over for the moment. Sushma Swaraj has been her own staunchest defender. After all, this was neither a case of corruption or bribery. It was merely use of her political standing to help an old family friend facing a tragic family crisis. She had her own moment of sweet revenge educating Sonia, Rahul and the Congress about the true meaning of corruption and quid pro quo, through the Quatrocci and Anderson examples. The Gandhi-Mainos had silently to stomach this in Parliament.
Meanwhile, Lalit Modi continues unfazed and undeterred.He is confident that the Government has no case against him under the PMLA, and he is victim of vendetta first by Chidambaram, and now by Jaitley. He has almost challenged the government to issue the Red Corner notice against him, and then face him in an international court. He always had a ready, credible answer and counter for every question that Rajdeep Sardesai asked. So much so, that by the end of the interview, the interviewer came through more like the interviewee.
Meanwhile, the public are enjoying Lalit Modi’s tweets and look forward to more of them, whether about Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and their sons, Tharoor and his Kochi scam, Rahul Gandhi and Vadra, or Varun Gandhi and his Aunty demanding 60 million dollars to be handed over to her sister to settle his affairs in India.
Lalit Modi, mind you, has not yet been sued by anyone, though his tweets are very much alive. This speaks for itself.