In politics, even a blink can be dangerous – ask Sushma Swaraj

news Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - 05:30
Often referred to but more often ignored is a phrase that became famous during Watergate – the cover up is worse than the crime. One the one hand, External Affairs Minister (EAM) Sushma Swaraj has conducted herself inappropriately in a professional matter that concerns a friend Lalit Modi who is also a client of Swaraj’s daughter, a lawyer. On the other extreme, the foreign minister of the world’s largest democracy has ticked-off a journalist on a twitter in an inelegant manner. The journalist is the weak link to becomes an easy target.   The strong link is in the man coteries of New Delhi that match and detach depending upon what is on the table – in other words, there are no principles, only interests. When presented with the Modi dossier, there were things that Swaraj was required to do, officers she should have sought advice from and finally exercise her own judgment on whether there was a conflict of interest. From the outside, there’s an elephant in the room. Inside are the innards of palace intrigues on which bureaucracies thrive.   In the United Kingdom (UK, for example, heads have rolled for much less. .The second resignation of British lawmaker Peter Mandelson is relevant here. In 2001 British lawmaker Peter Mendelsos resigned from the government following accusations that he had used his position to influence a passport application. He had contacted Home Officer Minister Mike O’Brien on behalf of Srichand Hinduja who was seeking British citizenship. At that time, the Hinduja brothers were under investigation in India for their alleged involvement in an arms scandal. Mandelson said he had done nothing improper and an independent commission exonerated him. In 1989, Elisabeth Kopp, Switzerland’s first female minister resigned after it was established that she passed on privileged information to her husband Hans W. Kopp to immediately dissociate from Shakarchi Trading as it was under investigation for its connections with international crime. In Sweden a minister resigned after she erroneously swiped an official credit card for a private taxi ride. The scale of what is proper and what is not is vast and in India where politicians, their friends and family cross that line regularly, Swaraj’s actions raise suspicion. It comes at a time when people are asking many questions about propriety in a government which had campaigned on a clean governance platform. Lalit Modi is under investigation in India. The Blue corner alert (one of eight in Interpol’s hierarchy) against him, if one exists, only requires the country where he is to keep an eye on him. Considering that Modi is a regular on Indian television networks, his whereabouts have hardly been a secret. To be fair, Swaraj had to hit the ground running. She inherited a difficult dossier – Kerala nurses stranded in Iraq – and one crisis after another followed. There were no major mishaps or embarrassment during the many high profile visits by foreign dignitaries to India. So where did she slip? She short-circuited the system it appears from whatever is available in the public domain in a high profile case.  It is hard to believe that mother and daughter would not have discussed the case threadbare including the conflict of interest it comes with. The mother should have cautioned the daughter or vice-versa.  If this was not done, one of them is incompetent. If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decides to stand by their leader, that is their position, but to expect others to believe that she did not cross a line is to underestimate human intelligence. But, in a country where the father is a finance minister and the son is a trader, this episode, it seems, is par for the course.    
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