Thursday, August 13, 2015


Thursday , August 13 , 2015 |


TALKING POINT: WHERE’S PM’S VOICE? A sheaf of papers with Rahul Gandhi as he heads to Parliament on Wednesday shows what looks like talking points for his speech. “Log PM Modi ko sunna chahte hai, woh unki rai janna chahte hai, Modigate par, Vyapam par,” reads the first point. “People want to hear Prime Minister Modi, they want to know his opinion, on Modigate, on Vyapam.” The “3 monkeys of Gandhi ji” are also listed a little lower down. Both points featured in his speech in the House later. Picture by Prem Singh
New Delhi, Aug. 12: Prime Minister Narendra Modi tonight recommended to the nation through a tweet: "A must-watch speech by @SushmaSwaraj ji in Parliament."
The Telegraph reviews the tale told by some of the wisest personalities in the country, full of sound and fury, signifying weighty matters of state.

The plot: L'affaire Lalit Modi
The venue: The Lok Sabha
The protagonists: Sushma Swaraj, Rahul Gandhi, Sonia and a departed soul
The supporting cast: Mallikarjun Kharge and Arun Jaitley
Unseen characters: Narendra Modi and Mahatma Gandhi's three monkeys
The background: The government abruptly agrees to debate the Lalit scandal in the Lok Sabha, where it has a brute majority, catching the Congress unawares. The Congress, which has paralysed the monsoon session with one day to spare, agrees to the debate because it does not want to be seen as only shouting every day. Had the Congress not agreed, the government would have sprung a debate on the IPL, which the rest of the Opposition would have accepted. Some Congress leaders feel the party committed a tactical blunder by agreeing to the debate but others insist it was the best course available to establish that the government had no substantive answers to the charges related to the Lalit scandal.
Accordingly, Kharge, the House leader of the Congress, initiated the discussion - the first in the three-week-old session - and listed the well-documented allegations against Sushma.
When it was her turn, Sushma, who appeared to have done considerable research, explained to Rahul Gandhi the meaning of " quid pro quo".
She thundered: "Rahul said I have done a criminal act. No court had declared Modi a fugitive by then. He talked of quid pro quo and said thieves work in secrecy.
"Sushma does not do anything in stealth. If there was anyone who indulged in stealth, it was the Rajiv Gandhi government that helped (Union Carbide chief Warren) Anderson flee from India in the wake of the Bhopal gas disaster.
"Arjun Singh's autobiography says he was asked to take Anderson to Delhi discreetly and he flew out, never to return. Then one Adil Shahryar, son of Mohd Yunus who was close to the Gandhi family, was sentenced for 35 years in the US... he was granted presidential pardon on India's request.
"This is quid pro quo. Rahul, read your family history next time you go on vacation. Then ask Sonia 'Mamma, Quattrocchi ke case mein humne kitna paisa liya, daddy ne Shahryarko kyon chhurwaya tha (Mamma, how much money did we take in the Quattrocchi case and why did daddy ensure the release of Shahryar?")
Sushma's onslaught left many Congress members looking shell-shocked. But the air of despondency lifted somewhat when Rahul Gandhi made an unscheduled intervention.
Rahul, who appeared animated and more involved than usual, said: "Sushmaji held my hand yesterday and asked ' beta, why are you angry with me? What did I do to you?' I said 'I am not angry. I respect you'. Then I looked into her eyes and said 'I am only speaking the truth.' She turned her face away, unable to look into my eyes. Why? Aapke parivar ko Modipaisa dete hain. Aapki family unka legal affairs dekhti hai, related to the same ministry you look after. You are the first humanitarian who does humanitarian work in stealth."
Rahul sought to bring the focus back on the Lalit scandal. "I asked two questions: how much money your family received to help the symbol of black money (Lalit) and why you helped him in secret. Did you tell the PM?"
Rahul ripped into the Prime Minister, who was not in the House. "Modiji said Rs 15 lakh will come into every account when black money is brought back. Lalit Modi is nothing but the symbol of black money. Today, the Prime Minister doesn't have the guts to sit in his chair, to face the House. Gandhiji had three monkeys. They didn't see evil, speak evil and hear evil. Modiji has modified this: He doesn't see the truth, doesn't speak the truth, doesn't listen to the truth."
Since the Prime Minister was not present in the House, the task of defending Sushma fell upon finance minister Arun Jaitley.
Jaitley said: "A mountain is being made out of what is not even a mole hill. There is no question of resignation. Sushma was just a scapegoat as the Congress party's main objective was to sabotage the growth story by blocking the GST bill."
Describing Rahul as "an expert without knowledge", Jaitley sought to get even over the monkey jibe. The finance minister asked Rahul not to "make a monkey out of the country" by holding up Parliament.
Jaitley also took a swipe at Rahul over the questions raised about Sushma's daughter who was one of the lawyers of Lalit. "There are still some honest people whose children have to work for a living. There are other people who, for generations in politics, have not worked for a living. They have learnt the art of living comfortably without working, which we have not."
The discussion also witnessed a display of fury by Sonia when a BJP member made a reference to her sister. Sonia flew into a rage, dashed to the well of the House, followed by all Congress MPs, and screamed: "What did you say?" The House was adjourned for a while and the temperature cooled.
Seated next to Sushma was L.K. Advani, the patriarch who does not need much to let the tear ducts work overtime. In the 30 minutes that Sushma spoke, Advani's eyes welled up more than once. She got a pat from the veteran, too.
The Congress eventually walked out, insisting on a reply from the Prime Minister. The adjournment motion was defeated by a voice vote.
• The BJP feels it has turned the tables on the Congress. The ruling party felt that a corporate campaign to end the House stand-off had put pressure on the Congress but was apprehensive in the morning about its fallout on other Opposition parties;
•  The invigorated BJP has revived efforts to get the GST bill passed either by extending the current session or calling a special session;
•  Many in the Congress feel the discussion should have been avoided. But others believe the debate has ended up proving that Sushma has no leg to stand on other than the crutches of old controversies;
•  The Congress is also highlighting that the Prime Minister, in spite of his reputation as a great communicator, is being compelled to stay in the shadows. Instead of stepping forward and defending one of his most important ministers, the Prime Minister is tweeting a little before primetime the video link to Sushma's speech - much like what telemarketers do;
•  The acrimony and bitterness are certain to go several notches up from tomorrow. Sonia hosted a dinner for Congress MPs tonight to thank them and plot strategy for tomorrow.
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, watch this space for more sound and fury.

She said, she said not

Television footage of Sushma Swaraj speaking in the Lok Sabha. (PTI)
Mallikarjun Kharge, Congress: Why haven't you made public former finance minister P. Chidambaram's letters to the UK chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne seeking cooperation in getting Lalit Modi back to India?
Sushma: Chidambaram didn't even route his letters through the ministry of external affairs, and the MEA only came to know of the correspondence when it received a response from Osborne. To Chidambaram's second letter, Osborne didn't even deem it fit to reply. He got the state minister in the foreign and Commonwealth office to respond instead, to the minister of state in the MEA at the time, Preneet Kaur.

(Sushma didn't really answer the question, but by claiming a deviation from norm by Chidambaram - all correspondence with a foreign nation is usually routed through the MEA - she suggested she wasn't the one who had behaved secretively.)
Arun Jaitley: The Enforcement Directorate (which is probing allegations of money laundering against Lalit) is exempt from releasing documents under the Right to Information Act, which the UPA brought.
Kharge: Why did you not appeal the Delhi High Court order last August giving Lalit back his passport?
Sushma: The high court ordered the return of his passport because the ED had for four years (under the UPA) not moved an inch on the case. In cases where we revoke a passport based on the ED's advice, we wait for the ED to ask us to appeal court orders. Now, under Jaitleyji, the ED will prepare a strong case and we will then appeal.
Kharge: Wasn't there a clear conflict of interest? Was there not quid pro quo?
Sushma: My husband (Swaraj Kaushal) was not a lawyer for Lalit Modi in his passport revocation case. And my daughter (Bansuri Swaraj) was the ninth junior lawyer, merely assisting her seniors in the case. She did not earn a single paisa from Lalit Modi.
(Then Sushma referred to the Bofors scandal and the Bhopal gas tragedy. Sushma deftly sidestepped the broader financial relationship between her family and Lalit. Her husband has been a lawyer for Lalit and some Modi family companies for over 20 years. She was also quiet - and was not asked - about her husband's attempts to seek help from Lalit to secure admission for his nephew in a UK college.)
Kharge: Why did you do everything so silently if you were above board?
Sushma: Sushma Swaraj does not do things in stealth.
(Sushma didn't mention that she tweeted about the Lalit episode only after The Sunday Times, London, detailed her role.)
Kharge: Why did you not ask Lalit Modi to approach the Indian High Commission in London for emergency travel?
(Skipped by Sushma in her reply)
Rahul Gandhi: Why did you not discuss with the ED, with the Prime Minister, with your own ministry, with the Indian high commissioner before acting on your own? Or did the PM know?
(Sushma - and later Jaitley - remained silent on this. Two central questions were, thus, left unanswered)
Kharge: Why did you reverse the Indian government's position that any UK diplomatic help to Lalit would affect bilateral ties? If the intent was humanitarian, why did you not make Lalit's return to India a precondition for any travel documents for him?
Sushma: I was acting on humanitarian grounds, to help Lalit Modi's wife, a cancer patient who has no cases against her. Who am I to set preconditions before another government?
(Sushma sidestepped the question, because she could have told the UK India's position remained intact, then told Lalit he would receive temporary Indian documents - on the condition he returned to India)
N.K. Premachandran (RSP): You acted on humanitarian grounds, will you also help Dawood Ibrahim travel somewhere tomorrow if his wife is ill?
Sushma: I have here a letter Premachandranji wrote me, requesting on humanitarian grounds help for a convict to obtain travel documents. So if I help someone from your part of the world, I am fine, but if I help others, it is a crime?
(The response showed how well-prepared Sushma was).

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