Kyon istifa dia jaaye? Hum Congress party ko oblige karne kay liye sarkar chala rahein hain kya? (Why should they (Sushma Swaraj & Vasundhara Raje) resign? Are we running a government to oblige the Congress Party?) These were Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s words on Saturday, a week after the media unravelled the murky deeds and connections of Lalit Modi with Indian politicians.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi on Friday. Both she and the Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje now owe survival in office to the PM, and not merely the support they draw from colleagues and party, or their work. Pic/PTI
The BJP government is not going to take a decision, let alone do something as impactful as firing an external affairs minister, under pressure from the media or opposition. Or in this case, both. Columnists and TV anchors can write reams or debate endlessly on the ethics and morals of ministers hobnobbing with economic offenders; the fact is that no resignations or dismissals seem to be imminent. If either the Rajasthan Chief Minister or the Union External Affairs minister would be asked to resign or dismissed, it will be done at the time of Mr Narendra Modi’s choosing. When he deems it fit to take punitive action against what is increasingly appearing to be bad choices made by the two highly accomplished and successful ladies. They now owe survival in office to the Prime Minister, and not merely the support they draw from colleagues and party, or their work.
They could take the high moral ground and resign. Say something lofty like ‘Till my name is not cleared of all wrong doings I will not take up a government assignment.’ Many have taken that route of resigning on ethical grounds, even though they continued to avail perks of proximity of government, like continuing to stay in government houses in Lutyens’ Delhi, government cars, security paraphernalia, etc.
But the thing is that rarely do they make a comeback after their names have been cleared or when the cases against them drag on in courts with no end in sight. It suits political parties to put such leaders to pasture. For several years LK Advani sat alone at home while the Jain Havala investigations found nothing incriminating against him. He made a comeback but his colleague Madan Lal Khurana, who also resigned, just faded into oblivion. Advani’s frequent resignations and returns dented his image.
So also Natwar Singh; he was asked to resign and go he did, after the UN Volker committee named him and the Congress party as beneficiaries in illegal payoffs in the Iraqi oil scam. Natwar Singh never returned to the charmed circle, despite decades of unflinching devotion to the Gandhi family from Nehru to Sonia Gandhi. What if he had brazened it out? Would Dr Manmohan Singh have fired him? What about Dr Singh? Those close to him say that he came very close to resigning during both his terms as Prime Minister. He was fed up, we are told by chroniclers of the UPA decade. Continuous interference from 10 Janpath and the shenanigans of Congress power brokers caused untold misery to the Prime Minister. His name was besmirched but he didn’t resign or, some say, was ordered not to resign.
Had Dr Singh quit any time during UPA-2, he would have emerged unscathed from the scampalooza and would have been remembered as a hero who fought against all odds to bring in second generation economic liberalization but was let down by his own party. Even his staunchest critics would grant that his fatal flaw was that he did resign or fire. That his by and large clean image took a massive, irretrievable hit because of his tolerance towards wheeler-dealers in the cabinet.
Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal had to resign following the 2013 scam. Bansal has gone into oblivion and the media stopped following the case. Remember the Augusta Westland investigation? The CBI questioned national Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Special Protection Group (SPG) Chief BV Wanchoo. No resignations, no dismissals. Post retirement they were appointed as governors of West Bengal and Goa.
Without doubt the Lalit Modi bomb has damaged the NDA government. The opposition has smelled blood and is sure to ensure that the monsoon session of Parliament will be a stormy one. The Prime Minister will not be able to secure bipartisan support for his bills and it will be an uphill task. One can see the signs in the charge mounted by Rahul Gandhi, almost on a daily basis.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash