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Why The PM Is In A Catch-22 Situation

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Weeks ago, opinion polls had placed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj ahead of other ministers on performance and popularity. Sunday's blow came just when she, after months of lying low, had regained the spotlight via a self-assured news conference and reports that played up her role in activating the land swap pact with Dhaka.
 
Sushma allegedly broke standard protocol of the foreign office to help the fugitive former IPL chief Lalit Modi obtain British travel papers when his Indian passport stood revoked. Her act of helping the former IPL chief travel to Portugal from London, which she admitted in a series of tweets on Sunday, involved overreach and a breach of protocol.
 
What she did not disclose was a potential conflict of interest her critics are bound to highlight in arguing that her decision to intervene could have been influenced by considerations other than humanitarianism.
 
Read Also: Sushma In Trouble

The minister is accused of using her position to favour Lalit Modi amid the whiff of a conflict of interest, since he had hired her daughter (Bansuri Swaraj) as a lawyer and allegedly done her nephew a favour. Bansuri consistently appeared on Lalit Modi's behalf in the Delhi high court between April 2012 and August 2014 among the battery of lawyers representing Lalit Modi.
 
The Sunday Times, citing leaked correspondence, reported Labour MP Keith Vaz cited Sushma's name to the home office to expedite Lalit Modi's case. Vaz previously offered to help Sushma's nephew Jyotirmay Kaushal to apply for a British law degree course, the report said. Lalit Modi, who fled to London in 2010, is wanted by India's Enforcement Directorate on charges of financial irregularities.
 
HuffPost India reviewed emails that shed light on conversations between Lalit Modi, the foreign minister's husband Swaraj Kaushal and Vaz. Bansuri is copied on some of these emails one of which also asks Lalit Modi and Vaz to intervene to secure admission for Sushma' nephew in a UK university.
 
Lalit Modi was reportedly granted his travel papers less than 24 hours after Vaz invoked the names of Sushma and James Bevan, the British envoy to India, the report added.
 
Giving a new twist to the controversy, a senior party member and Lok Sabha MP, Kirti Azad coming out in defence of Sushma has made broad hints to a feud within the party ranks. In his tweets, Azad has referred to a party insider, having a role to play in leaking information about the minister's recommendation and her family's association with Lalit, who is wanted in India on charges of money laundering. 
 
Azad, on Twitter, claimed that it was a 'snake in the grass' and a media personality who are conspiring against Sushma.
 
It is a well known that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Sushma have not been on good terms for the past few years. Backing Sushma, BJP chief Amit Shah said the fact that Lalit Modi's wife Meenal was suffering from cancer, had prompted Sushma to act in the manner she did and that he did not think it was a moral issue.
 
Analysts wonder about the reason behind Prime Minister Narendra Modi's support to Sushma, some say the situation is delicate. At this juncture if the PM supports her outright, then he too comes under the scanner and gives the Opposition the perfect ammunition to use against him.
 
However, on the other hand, if Sushma departs from the Cabinet, the PM loses talent, which is already in short supply. Furthermore, the entire government will face great criticism because Sushma will be too well-known a dissenter within the government.
 
It was Lal Krishna Advani who got Sushma inducted into the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2000,  which had followed a brief stint as Delhi chief minister and a subsequent poll debacle. As long as Advani called the shots, Sushma was safe. So safe, that even her proximity to the mining scam-tainted Reddy brothers of Karnataka failed to hurt her, except for having to face the Congress's slingshots in Parliament.
 
Even her status as the BJP's top woman leader has come under pressure with the emergence of Smriti Irani, Nirmala Sitharaman, Meenakshi Lekhi and Vasundhara Raje Scindia. It will be a sobering thought as Sushma gears to fight perhaps the biggest battle of her political career yet.


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