At some point in the course of his interview with Rajdeep Sardesai, I had to press ‘pause’ just to take my pulse. Could it be true? Was I actually nodding in agreement with Lalit Modi? Perhaps it was his sibilant lisp. But my pulse was steady and as I pressed ‘play’ again, I had to ask, how does a fugitive from the law become a self-righteous victim?
If you saw that interview you would have heard Modi declare that he was not about to roll-over quietly. Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted: “How many people is he going to throw under the bus here?”
Modi’s revelations have already laid claim to one cabinet minister, fighting charges of impropriety, and a chief minister, fighting far graver charges. Suddenly, the party with a difference has started looking dangerously like the scam-tainted Congress, voted out of power just a year ago.
Away from the spin-doctoring, charges and counter-charges, the Lalit Modi scandal embodies all that is wrong with our system — nepotism, conflict of interest, dirty tricks, media plants and zero ethics.
To pretend that there is no conflict of interest in what Sushma Swaraj did for her pal — a man wanted for questioning by the enforcement directorate in connection with a Rs 425 crore IPL scam — by interceding with a foreign government is to be devoid of all moral sense of right and wrong. That this was done by keeping her ministry’s top officials in the dark makes it worse. That this might be a result of insidious BJP infighting is irrelevant. That the UPA’s P Chidambaram’s threat to Britain with ‘souring’ bilateral relations (according to Modi) only proves that in this hamaam, all are, well you know the rest.
That leaves us with Vasundhara Raje. Given her own temporary amnesia and the BJP’s refusal to come out and bat for her, we have only Modi’s claims that she offered to come out as a witness for him provided the authorities were kept in the dark. Add to this serious charge, a questionable investment in her son Dushyant’s company, hotel bills, hospitality and a suspiciously timed MoU with a hospital where Raje had kindly escorted Modi’s wife for cancer treatment and you have a pretty water-tight case.
Beyond the screaming headlines lies the lamentable fact that very often India is a functional oligarchy. In Delhi’s durbar asking a ‘family friend’ for a favour is not new. Certainly, Swaraj is not the first politician to have over-extended herself for a friend, in this case a non-paying client of her husband and daughter. But the Congress can hardly claim a high moral ground and the BJP’s counter-attack includes the names Ottavio Quattrocchi, Adil Shahryar (the son of Indira Gandhi’s family friend, Mohammad Yunus) and Warren Anderson. But how do those wrongs make what its ministers are now doing right?
It’s not just politicians and their fixers but senior journalists too — many who function as nimble gardeners, a little planting here, a tiny uprooting there. When ‘their’ government comes to power in a cyclical change of seasons they can expect to be rewarded with Padma awards, junkets and memberships on the board of public companies. That’s the name of the game.
As a bonafide member of Delhi’s power elite, Modi knows too many secrets. Is he trying to cut friends-turned-adversaries down to size? Who will he implicate next? Can Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Shashi Tharoor and Rajeev Shukla be safe? What is the security threat that Lalit Modi goes on and on about? Will the BJP ministers be sacrificed for some later legislative gains? At this point, your guess is as good as mine.
Lalit Modi is hardly your average whistle-blower. There is no altruism in this stunning expose. It’s a settling of scores and the sending out of a powerful message: I know too much about you and your dirt. Come after me at your own peril. I’m sure that message has been received.
The views expressed are personal.
The writer tweets as @namitabhandare