Why The PM Must Walk The Talk
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The Opposition criticism is getting shrill, and questions are being raised whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi is condoning what seems to be a case of a senior minister using her discretionary power in favour of Lalit Kumar Modi, the former commissioner of the Indian Premier League now living in exile in Britain.
The National Democratic Alliance government continues to behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand instead of acting to remedy the situation. It also ought to spell out how it intends to pursue the ongoing investigations against Lalit Modi.
Narendra Modi and his supporters made much of the fact that his government had remained free of scandal and scam for one year. Under Modi's regime it appears that corruption has only one connotation. Corruption refers to illegal transactions involving money. This is too narrow a definition of corruption. Abuse of office to secure favours for someone is also a corrupt act. This is precisely what Sushma Swaraj has done. She, as a minister, has betrayed a fiduciary bond.
The Sushma Swaraj-Lalit Modi sordid saga is a scandal-in-the-making, and the government cannot simply run away from it. Regardless of the details and the technicalities, the key here is public perception. And that perception now seems to be that the external affairs minister has intervened to help a man who is facing serious charges of financial crime in India.
In the past the BJP has been vocal on propriety by those in high places - it pilloried the Congress in the Quattrocchi case, and then in the question of Shashi Tharoor in connection with the IPL and so on. And rightly so. Now it cannot adopt a different set of rules for itself and say that no moral code has been violated. The opposition will be fully justified in leveraging the controversy to nail the Modi government for Sushma Swaraj's act of impropriety. This issue is sure to rock the monsoon session of Parliament beginning next month. The government will - no doubt - go all out to neutralise the demand for Swaraj's resignation. Swaraj is one of the few seasoned politicians, and her exit from the Cabinet would surely dent the image of the government.
It is a pity that not just the BJP but also the RSS seems to have thrown its weight behind the minister's defence, which appears laboured. It is not quite enough to say Sushma Swaraj has explained herself to the Prime Minister and party chief, and that they have rallied around her. This isn't a private or party affair. Sushma Swaraj hasn't embarrassed just the government, she has reduced the country to a joke because reinforced is the perception that those with money-power and political clout are above the law.
Sushma Swaraj's actions have cast a blot on the NDA government claim that it is not one of grace and favour.