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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | 23 JUNE, 2015

OF BJP AND SCAMS: LALITGATE IN PERSPECTIVE

The Bharatiya Janata Party is in deep crisis. The crisis might or rather, it will blow off, at least temporarily, but it will extract a price that will compound as the months go by.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest contribution to the BJP was his ability as a perceived ‘strongman’ to unite the squabbling factions into a cohesive entity. That he did so with a bludgeon did not seem to matter at that stage, with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh despite some reservations within, quite happy to see the BJP in a more compact, disciplined, and quieter form. Modi inspired fear within the party, and the decision to bring in his right man Amit Shah as President of the BJP—although initially resisted again by sections of the RSS—was seen as a masterstroke to subdue the differing voices and make even the most rebellious fall in line.

It seemed to be working. More so, as all dissent within stopped. In fact, not just dissent, all talk stopped. Not a single Minister was allowed to speak, and not a party functionary allowed to vent his views without sanction from PM Modi, directly or through Shah. In fact the Prime Minister made it clear in so many words that he expected his Ministers and the party, to speak when asked to, to avoid the media, and to stop the tendency of blabbering at the sight of a camera. He was clear that he would not tolerate dissent, and so it was. The BJP appeared a house united, although murmurs of dissension never really left the peripheries.

The incorrigible Lalit Modi who somehow manages to destroy those he befriends—the one exception being former Congress Minister Shashi Tharoor who he actually targeted—has emerged yet again to hit Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. The BJP extricated itself from the first blow, with a show of unity that even had Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh addressing a press conference to defend Swaraj, and make it clear that the party and the government and all the functionaries were totally united behind her. This was not before BJP leader Kirti Azad’s open jibes against Jaitley for orchestrating the media coverage against Swaraj for helping Lalit Modi get his residency permits in the UK; and sufficient speculation in the media about fissures within.

Interestingly in defending Swaraj, Lalit Modi sitting beside the sea at Montenegro told India Today in an interview that he was very close to her and her family, that her husband and daughter who have been his legal counsellors never charged a penny for their services, and that he had met Swaraj during her visit to the UK as the Foreign Minister but with friends, not alone. Whether her intervention then constitutes a conflict of interest will no doubt be determined along the way, as clearly the Foreign Minister used her position to help him with the British authorities without going through her Ministry, As the former Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh who was in office then said, she had ‘zero’ knowledge about this exchange of communication between Swaraj and British Labour MP Keith Vaz, amongst other details.

The first blow hurt bad, but the BJP did manage to stitch up the seams albeit with not a very strong thread. But the second blow has wounded, and there seems to be a bit of a hole in the BJP that is still scrambling to find the right threads to stitch it up again. It might, but the seams have weakened considerably since and might burst at some point in time with devastating results perhaps for the party.

The Vasundhara Raje revelations took the Lalit Modi ‘scam’ to a new level. Lalit Modi describing her as a family friend, emphasised this by pointing out that she had taken his wife to Portugal for her cancer treatment in 2012-2013. This was while Raje was out of government, and Leader of the Opposition in Rajasthan. The media has since reported that this visit resulted in the Research Institute/Hospital where Modi’s wife was treated, opening a unit in Rajasthan later. Anyways in his passionate defense of their friendship, Lalit Modi actually makes it worse for Raje by insisting that she had signed a statement of support for him, that she has denied doing. His lawyers released a 250 page dossier of documents that included an unsigned statement of support from Raje, on the “strict condition” that this fact would not be disclosed on any condition to the Indian authorities. Modi in his interview now says that he has a copy of the statement actually signed by her, and that she would have appeared in the courts for him except that by the time his case came up she had returned as the Chief Minister of Rajasthan.

Both Lalit Modi’s friends in the BJP went out of their way to help him, bypassing the government. This will not go away. And if PM Modi takes action against the one, the other too will not be able to stay. They are both women who know how to fight, have some level of support within the party, particularly amongst those who are known to be not very fond of PM Modi. Action at this stage will fan dissent at some point, now or later, but will spell the beginning of not so acche din for the BJP and the Prime Minister.

Inaction too is also not a choice. As failure to take action will give sufficient fodder to the Opposition that is already baying for blood. The BJP is trying to use its good office to win over parties like the Samajwadi but while this has worked to some extent, it is not impacting as yet on the others, in particular the Congress, Left, Janata Dal(U) who have the capacity to raise a storm in Parliament. Congress units are already demonstrating on the issue. Perhaps the one way out will be for the government to unearth some documents—if any—-against Congress leaders involved in IPL and use fire to douse fire. After all there have been several top Congressmen who have been big league players as well, apart of course from Shashi Tharoor who lost his job as a Minister in the last government after Lalit Modi and others went gunning for him.

IPL is dirt— a cesspool of sleaze, black money covered by glamour and cricket. Every major politician and industrialist tried to dabble in this, including PM Modi when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat through his industrialist friend Gautam Adani who made a bid for an IPL franchise but lost. The bid went to a company that took it to Kochi despite efforts to bring it to Ahmedabad, and it was then that the story unravelled to hit

Tharoor and his then girlfriend Sunanda Pushkar who was found to have sweat equity in the company.

The only way out then perhaps is to get out enough on the Opposition stalwarts to silence those demonstrating for action against Swaraj and Raje. This is the usual tactics employed by ruling parties when they find themselves in deep trouble. Short of this, the BJP could unravel, with the elections in Bihar becoming even more crucial and important for the party against the backdrop that the television channels insist on describing as #Lalitgate.

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