It Doesn’t Matter If the Story was Planted, Four of Sushma Swaraj’s Tweets are Enough to Nail the Case Against Her

On 14 June 2015, allegations of misconduct surfaced against the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, for using her position to expedite the travel documents of Lalit Modi—the architect of the Indian Premier League (IPL) who is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate for questioning about his role in a Rs 425 crore scam.
Elections 2024
16 June, 2015

“Every few years,”’ I had reason to write in January 2013, “Sushma Swaraj is metaphorically given to losing her head. And she manages to do spectacularly enough to erase the image she manages to build up assiduously in the intervening period through the work she does in Parliament. In 2004 she had wanted to give up her hair if Sonia Gandhi were to become Prime Minister, setting the stage for the drama of a renouncement that silenced the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] for several years. Now she wants India to return with ten Pakistani heads for the one Indian soldier who was beheaded.”

Judging from Swaraj’s reactions to the latest political crisis in her life, a result of her intervention as the Minister of External Affairs (MEA) to ensure that the UK issued travel documents to Lalit Modi—the architect of the Indian Premier League—who is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for questioning about his role in a Rs 425-crore scam, it is almost as if she is bent on proving these words right.

While the evidence against her is strong, the biggest blow to Swaraj’s case has been delivered by the MEA herself, through the statements she has made in her defense after the issue surfaced in the media a few days ago.

Consider her latest tweet published on the morning of June 15, 2015:

This tweet accorded Navika Kumar, the political editor of Times Now, the kind of attention that journalists are rarely granted by a senior Cabinet minister. For once the usual equation was reversed, here was a senior politician trying to troll a journalist.

What the minister was looking to imply with this tweet, or how it served to rebut the specific charges of impropriety against her is not very clear. However, soon after Swaraj’s statement, Twitter was abuzz with an old link to Navika Kumar’s conversation with Niira Radia, the corporate lobbyist. I had heard this conversation several times over well before the Radia tapes had been published. It was quite clear from the conversation that Navika Kumar had managed to elicit an important story out of Radia, that of former BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s revolt within the party. But Swaraj’s supporters were more intrigued by Radia’s insinuation during the conversation that Kumar was close to Arun Jaitley—Swaraj’s colleague in the cabinet. This, they seemed to imply, suggested that Jaitley may have had a hand in providing the information that became the basis for the current controversy that Swaraj is embroiled in.

While this may matter to the BJP, it is of little relevance to the rest of us. Certainly, journalists have always been aware that many important stories come to us from sources who may have a stake in the matter that is being reported. When we decide to go ahead despite this, we usually check for two things. The first is veracity, an investigation into whether the facts that we have been handed stand up to scrutiny. In this case, the emails and the reluctant admissions by both Swaraj and the members of her party prove that the facts certainly do. The second (and while this is arguable, I think it is essential) is that the public importance of the story must far outweigh the gains and losses that accrue to those who planted the story or those who figure in it. Again, the Lalit Modi story meets this test. An MEA interceding improperly and recklessly in favour of a man who was named by the ED in a Rs 425 crore scam and who is closely linked to her family is an important story. The gains and losses that may accrue to Jaitley or Swaraj in the process are secondary.

The tweets posted by Swaraj that preceded her jibe against Navika Kumar only served to highlight the significance of her action. On 14 June 2015, hours after the story was posted, she had posted a series of these in her defense, ending with a question.

That is an easy question to answer. Her intervention changed Modi’s status from someone who could not travel outside the UK to someone who could travel across the world and attend every celebrity party that would have him. Swaraj failed to ask the far more important question in this context: “What is it that I could have changed?” If Modi was indeed eager to seek the Indian government’s intervention to ensure that he traveled to Portugal to be with his ailing wife, then it was the right time to offer him a deal that would secure his cooperation in the cases cited by the ED. The government would give him the travel documents; he would attend the surgery and return to India to face the interrogation. Swaraj does not even seem to have considered such an option in her hurry to clear his case.

Another tweet from the series makes this even clearer.

The rhetoric is pointless. The benefit is clear since she ensured he obtained travel documents. It is also based on a lie. Under Portuguese law, Modi was not required to sign consent papers for his wife’s surgery. That Swaraj, as the foreign minister of India, is citing this as a reason for clearing the papers betrays either surprising ignorance of the law on her part, or a deliberate effort to manipulate the truth. That she repeated this lie, after due deliberation, to respond to the charges made against her in the media, only makes matters worse.

It just takes another tweet (strictly speaking, two, but the second one is just a spillover) from her timeline to complete the picture.

Her nephew Jyotirmay Kaushal may have indeed got into the university on merit, but Swaraj has not denied that she asked Modi for help with the process. At the time she was the leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, one of the most important Constitutional posts in the country, while Modi had been charged by the ED with economic offences of a serious nature. Apart from this being a gross impropriety on Swaraj’s  part, the very fact that she turned to him of all the people in the UK suggests proximity between Modi and her family. It appears to be the kind of proximity Swaraj should have disclosed, when the request for his travel documents first came up for her consideration.

Given that her own tweets establish that she is lying about the facts, concealing the nature of her family’s relationship with Lalit Modi, and has sought and bestowed favours on him while holding important Constitutional posts, it matters little whether the story was planted, or indeed whether it was planted by Jaitley. All that matters is that no MEA in a Constitutional republic should be allowed to get away with an act such as this.