Of course, Sushma Swaraj is innocent until proven guilty. So are we all. But when a shroud of suspicion descends how should an innocent person respond? By staying silent or by striving to clear doubt?
Apart from a few tweets, Mrs Swaraj has chosen silence. Unfortunately, the questions she’s avoiding continue to cry out for answers. Consequently her refusal to address them has become another issue she must confront.
Here are 10 questions anxiously awaiting her answers:
First, is it legitimate to show compassion to an absconder or evader of legal summons in such a way that you undermine the government’s decision to revoke his passport which, incidentally, you were at the time defending in court?
Second, would Mrs Swaraj have taken this decision if Lalit Modi was a stranger and unknown to her?
Third, even if there were credible grounds for treating with compassion a man avoiding legal summons why did she not stipulate that the travel document should be for a short duration and limited to a single journey to Portugal?
Fourth, was she aware that Keith Vaz, a British MP, who contacted her to ascertain whether she had reversed the UPA’s stand on assistance to Modi, had informed Sarah Rapson, the Director General of UK Visas and Immigration, that there were two reasons for giving Modi British travel documents, namely to accompany his wife
for surgery and to attend a family wedding, and that the second prima facie dilutes the urgency and legitimacy of the first?
Fifth, did she not realise that because her husband had been Lalit Modi’s lawyer for 22 years and, in 2013, had asked for his help to secure admission for their nephew in a British University, her decision to help Modi would suggest a quid pro quo?
Sixth, was Mrs Swaraj unaware that her daughter, Bansuri, was part of the team of lawyers retained by Lalit Modi to contest the government’s decision to revoke his
passport and that by helping Modi obtain British travel documents she was undermining the government’s position whilst assisting her daughter’s case?
Seventh, when Mrs Swaraj tweeted: “What benefit did I pass on to Mr Modi … what is it that I changed?” did she not know that by helping him obtain British travel documents valid till 2016 she made it possible for him to travel extensively which otherwise he would not have been able to do and this was a huge boon?
Eighth, how does Mrs Swaraj respond to the view that she has breached Section 13 (1) (d) (iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act which 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”?
Ninth, does Mrs Swaraj accept that whilst a lapse of judgement is not a crime it does suggest a person is unfit for high office?
Tenth, is Mrs Swaraj aware that in these circumstances many people would conclude that silence is guilt?
Finally, in any western democracy a politician in Mrs Swaraj’s position would have resigned, either voluntarily or on the instructions of the Prime Minister. The fact that Mrs Swaraj has not — whilst Mr Modi and his colleagues persist in supporting her — underlines the difference between their standards of transparency and accountability and ours. Ultimately, we’re a lesser democracy if politicians guilty of such gross lapse of judgement continue in high office.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)