by G Pramod Kumar Aug 7, 201
There couldn't have been a better description of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's statement on the Lalit Modi controversy in Parliament than what the Congress called it - a tearjerker. On a serious allegation of impropriety, which has led to the suspension/boycott of the opposition MPs, what she did on Thursday was an attempt to convince the nation through emotions, not through reasons.
The summary of her one-sided statement - because the contestants to her argument were not present in the Parliament to pick holes - was this: she didn't help Lalit Modi, but only a woman suffering from cancer for the last 17 years. "The allegations against me are wrong, untrue and baseless. I have never recommended or requested the British government to provide travel documents for Lalit Modi.”
She went on to add that it was the British government that had asked India if giving Lalit Modi travel documents would affect bilateral ties of the two countries."I never asked them or even requested them to do so.”
What got drowned in her well-modulated sentimental rhetoric, which also tried to draw in an unwilling Sonia Gandhi, was this operative portion: that she never asked the British government to help Modi and it was them who approached India.
Granted that she did say what she didn't do, but did she say anything on what exactly she did?
Did she say yes to them, or no? And what exactly was the process involved?
According to one of her original tweets in June, when the controversy initially erupted, she had admitted that she had told the British High Commissioner that "if the British government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi that will not spoil our bilateral relations”.
While making the whole affair look quite benign and purely humanitarian in the Parliament, what she didn't disclose was that by communicating India's no-objection to the High Commissioner she was actually changing an existing official stand of the government of India on record - that if Britain helped Lalit Modi, it will affect its bilateral ties with India. She also didn't mention what was the mode of communication and whether she gave official rules a go by, by not putting on file her communication with her British interlocutor, that too on a man who was facing serious charges of economic offences.
Now let's go back and read the earlier version of the story in Sushma's own words, constructed from her tweets by PTI in June .
"Sometime in July 2014, Lalit Modi spoke to me that his wife was suffering from Cancer and her surgery was fixed for August 4 in Portugal. He told me that he had to be present in the hospital to sign the consent papers. He informed me that he had applied for travel documents in London and the UK Government was prepared to give him the travel documents. However, they were restrained by a UPA Government communication that this will spoil Indo-UK relations.Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that: "British Government should examine the request of Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British Government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi that will not spoil our bilateral relations. Keith Vaz also spoke to me and I told him precisely what I told the British High Commissioner.”
Interestingly, we didn't hear this version of the story in such a chronological order, or linearity, in the Parliament. Instead what played out before us was the emotions of a real humanist. According to her June tweets, it was Modi who approached her and not the British government. She didn't make any reference to the British government seeking her opinion, as she claimed in her Parliament statement, even while admitting that she conveyed to the High Commissioner that granting him travel documents will not affect bilateral relations with India. Going by her own tweets, it sounded voluntary.
The story is not humanitarian asSushma has spun it out to be, but a possible case of nepotism and abuse of authority. Nepotism, because of Lalit Modi's close proximity to Swaraj and her family for years; and abuse of authority, because she reversed an existing government policy, without following rules and procedures. By couching it in primal sentiments, she is passing it off as a routine help that she may offer to any Indian citizen in distress.
It's not through human emotions that a person of official authority should make her/his case, but through evidence.
These are the three crucial questions that Sushma needed to answer, but glossed over.