Sushma’s case was weak but the Congress went for Raje

  • Karan Thapar, None
  • Updated: Jul 06, 2015 17:42 IST

Has the Congress overplayed its hand against Vasundhara Raje whilst throwing away the trump it could have used against Sushma Swaraj? I’m tempted to say yes.

Let’s start with the case the Congress has built against Vasundhara Raje. First, it has accused her of impropriety because she provided a secret witness statement in support of Lalit Modi’s application for permission to stay in Britain. But just because she’s Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan, is she precluded from standing witness for a friend in her individual capacity? No matter how unsavoury the friend and how undeserving his case, standing by him, if she so chooses, is her prerogative.

Of course, she should have made it clear she was acting in her personal capacity. Foolishly, she didn’t. However, that’s lapse of judgement, not a felony.

But then why did she want this kept secret? That’s a critical question. Here’s one possible answer: because she had already experienced the Congress’s vindictiveness when it instituted the Mathur Commission to investigate trumped-up corruption accusations against her, which she fought all the way to the Supreme Court to have struck down, and didn’t want to provoke another burst of similar harassment. Even if you don’t accept this justification you can’t say it lacks credibility.

Perhaps because it agreed with the above arguments, the Congress has recently chosen to target Vasundhara’s son’s business dealings with Lalit Modi and, in particular, the question of who owns Dholpur City Palace. But this is where it went off the rails.

First, the Congress got enmeshed in the technicalities and legalities of tax and company law, which are hard to follow but easy to dispute, and then it got caught up in a war of ownership documents, which proved nothing but only confused the picture. For all his showmanship, Jairam Ramesh wasn’t convincing. Of course, he was entertaining but he was also often contradicted.

Now, come to Sushma Swaraj. First, as foreign minister she used her influence to help a man, whose passport had been revoked, obtain a British travel document, thus undermining the Indian government’s decision to revoke his passport.

That looks like abuse of power. Second, the man was her husband’s and daughter’s client. This seems to be conflict of interest. Third, a year earlier her husband had approached this same person for help in obtaining a place at a British University for his nephew. Arguably, that suggests quid pro quo. To my mind, this adds up to three good reasons why she should resign or be sacked.

However, there’s one more. It could be the clincher. Section 13 (1) (d) (iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act reads: “A public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct if he, while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest.” In Lalit Modi’s circumstances, a British travel document was a very valuable thing and, as far as India is concerned, no public interest whatsoever was served by helping him obtain it. In fact, you could claim public interest was undermined by helping him secure travel papers.

Heaven alone knows why the Congress chose to target Vasundhara, against whom the case is only suggestive and, therefore, hard to prove, as turned out to be the case, and ignore Sushma, who was a sitting duck waiting to be shot down. If it ends up without the scalp it so desperately seeks it can only blame itself.

Meanwhile, Mrs Swaraj must be very grateful.

The author's views expressed are personal.

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