The recent controversy surrounding the association of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje with former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, currently facing serious charges of financial irregularities in India, have come to haunt the Bharatiya Janata Party’s central leadership. In fact, the story is less about Modi now and more about Swaraj and Raje, who, it appears, may have to quit their positions in a not too distant future. It is also a coincidence that both Swaraj and Raje are not perceived to be the most ardent supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had brought the BJP to power with his aggressive and tireless campaign last year.
It is because of this that certain sections of the BJP are interpreting the breakout of the scandal on the eve of the Bihar Assembly elections where the party’s chances of winning are 50-50 as a pre-emptive action by some supporters of the Prime Minister, to ensure that his probable critics in the event of a defeat are neutralised immediately. This is a clear case of over interpretation, since there is no threat to Modi’s leadership from any quarter and he continues to enjoy full authority within his party and his government. However, his total control over the government has perhaps inspired BJP patriarch L.K. Advani, currently in political wilderness, to have a dig at him by stating that he did not have the confidence that Emergency would never return to India as forces that can crush democracy were stronger.
Advani is a shrewd politician and thus has chosen the timing of his explosive interview to the Indian Express to re-assert himself and to send a strong message within the party that he was not irrelevant and still had a lot of politics in him. By sidelining him to a Marg Darshak Mandal, a body which lacks the approval of the BJP constitution, the leadership had made a huge mistake. He shall continue to send such signals till he gets some assurance from those who matter. He finds it as the right opportunity to also send feelers to forces within the party, which have been silent but are opposed to the working style of the present leadership to rally around him.
Coming back to Sushma Swaraj’s explanation that her action was propelled by humanitarian considerations, has not amused anyone. Since she has to go to New York for the International Yoga Day on Sunday, an impression is being given that the party was fully backing her. Ridiculous support statements that Swaraj is a nationalist by RSS functionaries have been shown on the electronic media, without trying to understand that nationalism has nothing to do with propriety and questionable conduct while dealing with a foreign government in one’s individual capacity and over and above the head of the ministry she heads. Her action is therefore indefensible and she has no option but to leave the Cabinet or be downsized in her own government, something which would prove even more embarrassing. Her exit could be similar to K. Natwar Singh’s sacking from the UPA government following the Volcker controversy.
The BJP, while defending Swaraj, has failed to take the fight to the Congress camp. There are some references to UPA’s soft line on Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian businessmen whose name figured in the Bofors scam, but there has been no mention of how Rajiv Gandhi had succeeded in obtaining clemency for his childhood friend Adil Shahryar from US President Ronald Reagan in June 1985 in what the media had described as a swap for allowing Warren Anderson of the Bhopal gas tragedy to get away. Shahryar was serving a prison sentence on various charges including arson and attempting to set a ship on fire.
It is not the first time that Swaraj has been involved in a controversy of this magnitude. As the Delhi Chief Minister in October 1998, she was accused of having hobnobbed with Romesh Sharma, jailed subsequently on serious charges. Sharma was under investigation by the CBI and the Delhi police and the then joint commissioner of police, Amod Kanth had written a letter to the then Home Minister, L.K. Advani drawing his attention to the meeting. Swaraj denied the charge all along and even swore on the Holy Gita at the BJP headquarters. This time though, she is in a very serious political muddle and may not be able to save herself.
Vasundhara Raje too appears to be on her way out and is looking very vulnerable after her links with Lalit Modi have come to light. The financial dealings her son, Dushyant Singh has had with the former IPL boss have also raised many eyebrows and the media is already drawing a comparison between him and Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra. If charges against him and his mother are established, their political careers would be over and they could even face prosecution. It is evident that good days have ended for some in the BJP but if Swaraj and Raje also take some others down is to be seen. Between us.