Sushma Swaraj : Tied Down By Personal Bonds

 Moral dilemma of choosing right over wrong has been around since antiquity. In Mahabharata, the blind king Dhritarashtra’s dilemma became evident when he had to choose between Kauravas and Pandvas, as the rightful ruler of the kingdom of Indraprastha. Dhritarashtra knew Kauravas had cheated in the game of dice, he knew Kauravas had disrobed and demeaned Draupadi, queen and wife of Pandavas. Yet he was blinded by love for his sons.  When reminded by his minister and  by his wife, Gandhari, about the immorality of the act, Dhritarashtra apparently said, “But Gandhari, Duryodhana is my son!”

A saga of moral intrigue is being played out in present day Hastinapur where the blind king had to face the battle between right and wrong. Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, minister of external affairs in the present NDA government. She has a long unblemished political innings behind her. Efficient, and articulate she is well respected for her communication skills. Recently, it emerged that Mrs. Swaraj had intervened with British authorities to grant travel papers to Mr. Lalit Modi, an absconder from Indian law. Obvious questions that arise are:

Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has courted controversy when it emerged that:

She had requested British Foreign office to grant papers to Mr. Lalit Modi

Earlier as leader of opposition, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had sought favor from Mr. Lalit Modi about admission of her relation in a college in UK.

Husaband of Mrs. Sushma Swaraj is a legal advisor to Mr. Lalit Modi. Daughter of Mrs. Swaraj is a member of the firm that represents Mr. Modi for his legal matters. 

In her intervention to British Foreign Office, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had bypassed officers in her department. She did not even consult finance ministry. Enforcement Directorate falls under finance ministry.

Recently when Delhi High Court restored Mr. Modi’s passport, Government of India did not appeal in Supreme Court.

In her defence, it can be argued that, 

  • Mrs Swaraj acted in good faith to let Mr. Modi by his wife, when she is suffering from a terminal illness. Mr. Lalit Modi did not vanish in thin air after the travel paper. He came back to London. However, Lalit Modi was caught partying in Ibiza, Portugal. That is strange given his wife was seriously ill. From Mrs. Sushma Swaraj’s point of view she acted in good faith.

  • Ideally, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj should have discussed the decision with her officers as well as  her ministerial colleagues.  May be she anticipated resistance, justifiably so. That is why,  she used her discretionary power in this case. 

  • Did Mrs Susma Swaraj grant favour to Mr. Lalit Modi as a quid pro quo keeping her husband’s business interest and her daughter legal career in mind? May be Mrs. Sushma Swaraj will be able to answer this puzzle best. So far any evidence of money transfer has emerged. In the era where scams can be as big 176000 crores, will a request for admission to a British academic institution be called a quid pro quo? In society, almost anybody and everybody asks a person they know for favor. Is it really that unusual. Keeping long and unblemished track record of Mrs Sushma Swaraj, I think  this angle should be allowed to rest.

  • Lalit Modi was living legally in the UK using Tier I business visa. There was no arrest warrant against Mr. Modi. Blue corner Interpol notification meant that Indian government must be informed in case Mr. Modi moves to any new destination. 

  • Government of India had decided against initiating extradition process against Mr. Modi. Instead they revoked Mr. Modi’s Indian passport. This passport was restored by Delhi High Court. According to report since 2011 – 2014, Enforcement Directorate has not produced any significant material to justify revocation of Mr. Modi’s passport. The time frame mentioned, UPA was in power. Mr. Modi lead NDA had assumed power only three months in Aug, 2014. 

  • Should Mrs. Swaraj had met Lalit Modi in UK? Politicians meet all sorts of people. Many enterprising people have phone and e-mail addresses of influential leaders. Mr. Lalit Modi was an economic offender and not a heinous criminal. Cases against him are yet to be proven in court of law. In the UK, Mrs. Swaraj had met many influential Indians, among them one was Lalit Modi. Mrs. Swaraj had dinner with Mr. Modi, that also in a group and not a private affair.

The perception of public morality appears to be very different in India compared to western democracy. In India leaders in many political establishments, barring BJP and Left parties, usually retain top leadership position within the family. Does this not open up  potential moral dilemma and conflict of interest? We have seen transgression of family members of high and mighty gets ignored in India. 

In the complex social environment of India people are linked to one another many a time through social and/or family ties. Many enterprising people make it their business to find relationship to rich, famous and influential people. Those in the   position of power have to learn how to separate their official position from social relationship. A case in point is Mr. Narendra Modi, who does not even allow his mother to stay in his official residence. Lest an allegation of conflict of interest crops up. I think India must get laws to deal with conflict of interest. 

Whatever may be our national trait, I do not think issue of morality at high public office must be taken seriously. Those who indulge in violation of code of ethics, willingly or unknowingly, must be help accountable for their deed. I think, Mrs. Swaraj by her indiscretion has created a great damage to her government’s development centric agenda and its high moral ground. She must pay the penalty. But asking an efficient minister to resign, should be wrong. I think Mrs. Swaraj should apologise to nation through parliament, acknowledge her mistake and carry on with her duties. That will be only good for the nation.
Tags: Blue Corner Notice,  Conflic of Intereste, Dhritarashtra, Draupadi, Enforcement Directorate, Finance Ministry, Gandhari, Hastinapur, Indraprastha, Interpol, Kaurava, Lalit Modi, Mahabharata,  Ministry of External Affairs, Narendra Modi, Pandava, Sushma Swaraj, Tier I Visa, United Kingdom

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