Perhaps the most exasperating person in Lalitgate, as the scam involving BJP politicians and the former IPL Commissioner has come to be known, is the key protagonist himself. Lalit Modi, now fairly safe and secure in London with his documents all cleared and in order, is singing like a canary. And can be expected to notch up the decibels as the weeks go by, and he continues to feel the pressure. His web page is a journalist&’s delight, from documented details of his position to provocative Tweets intended to draw blood, as they clearly are doing.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have lost the plot, at least till date. He allowed the time frame of opportunity to pass him by, and instead of acting against Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, he had the party coming out in their defence. He himself has not said much, but then given the fact that Ministers in his Cabinet, including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, have been holding press conferences in their defence drags him well into what is fast acquiring the texture and the lethal potential of quicksand.
The choice was to order a probe, ask the ladies to step down until the report came in, and occupy the moral high horse. Or conversely to stare the opposition in the face, dismiss the media demand for blood, and back the senior BJP leaders for their covert support to Lalit Modi – a man wanted by the Department of Revenue Intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate, that are part of the Ministry of Finance in the Government of India. The Prime Minister chose the second option, characteristically, as he does not like to accept opposing positions, and is now paying the price.
It is not clear what made those in charge of government believe that the matter would end with the couple of documents that were initially released. Every passing day is making the waters murkier, with the tide rising dramatically against the BJP. The Congress party, that was in government till just over a year ago for ten years, has now produced documents of support signed by Raje. It might be recalled that this document expressly stated the condition in writing that it should not be shared with the government and the authorities of the time, that being the Congress-led UPA. This was an absolutely unacceptable proviso coming from the then Leader of the Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly who was earlier, and is today the Chief Minister of the state.
Even now the government is dragging its feet, although some sort of action is being expected. However, if Raje goes then Swaraj too will have to, with the one feeding into the other. If neither goes, the BJP might just find itself withering under the storm that will, no doubt, be fuelled by more documents and more revelations, IPL being a cauldron of dirt and filth. It might try to get a way out by dragging Congress leaders into the mess, but even so all will have to pay the price.
Parliament that convenes for the monsoon session in less than a month now will turn into a furnace if the BJP does not act. Even so, PM Modi will be targeted with the Opposition even now insisting that he should make a statement, and make his position clear on the entire issue. BJP sources that tried to mollify scribes with a ‘action after Yoga Day’ now have little to say, as little has happened since insofar as the party and its government is concerned. Instead, the BJP is finding it difficult to speak against corruption with its ally in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena coming out in full support of the Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria. Its mouthpiece Saamna, in an editorial, has castigated the BJP on corruption saying it has no right to act against Maria when it cannot take action against Swaraj and Raje, or words to that effect.
There is deep worry in the BJP about the impact of Lalitgate on the forthcoming Bihar elections. This is a crucial Assembly election, where the stakes are very high for both BJP and the Opposition parties at the centre, and this controversy is basically feeding into growing disillusionment. In the last Lok Sabha election the Bihar electorate had come out in overwhelming support for the BJP, largely on the basis of PM Modi&’s volatile campaign and heavy promises. The subsequent inaction has dented this support base, with the Assembly elections basically a referendum to guage the voters’ mood one year down the line.
The problem as stated earlier is that PM Modi has allowed the window of opportunity to close. He should have acted against the concerned leaders at the very beginning, to establish his so called zero tolerance for corruption, and his reputation as a ‘man of action.’ The delay now will ensure that the credit for any action, if it comes, will be shared largely or even taken entirely by the Opposition and to some extent by the media. The BJP will not gain as it would have at the onset.
The delay has also allowed reports about Gujarat industrialist Gautam Adani&’s interest in an IPL franchise to surface, with the encouragement of PM Modi as the then Gujarat Chief Minister.
All in all, a murky drama that is far from over.
The writer is Editor-in-Chief of The Citizen, a daily online newspaper.