‘Corruption has a human face’—this is how Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam described External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s assistance to Lalit Modi in his tweet. Now, her conduct may not be exactly a case of corrupt practice, certainly not of the proportions the leaders of Nirupam’s party have been accused of, but there is an element of truth in his tweet. For it is indubitable that her dealings with Lalit Modi smack of quid pro quo, abuse of power, favoritism, and procedural irregularities.
Yet, the entire government, the ruling party, the RSS, and pro-BJP journalists stand behind Swaraj. From Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Home Minister Rajnath Singh to Swapan Dasgupta and Ashok Malik are peddling the argument that she acted in good faith; the words used for her are ‘fooled’, ‘gullible’, ‘acted in good faith’, ‘error of judgment’, etc.; but the sum and substance of her defence is that her consideration was humanitarian rather than pecuniary.
Her defenders seem to overlook the fact their line of argumentation proves her to be a naïve person, so naïve that she could be taken for a ride by a man of questionable integrity. But isn’t a gullible minister on Raisina Hill a national liability? Isn’t Nehru till date castigated by the same Swaraj apologists as a dangerously credulous leader who was fooled by the Chinese?
Further, the save-Sushma brigade, by over-emphasizing her credulity, is actually trying to test our credulity. One would have found some merit in the Swaraj-is-gullible-but-clean argument had there been no financial relationship between her family and Lalit Modi. Her daughter, Bansuri, happens to be Lalit Modi’s lawyer; her husband, Kaushal, has helped Lalit Modi. So, when she bypassed the rules and procedures to facilitate Lalit Modi get papers to travel to Portugal, and other places, she was doling out a favor to an old acquaintance, if not a family friend, and not doing something humanitarian.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘humanitarian’ as ‘a person who works to make other people’s lives better’ and ‘a person promoting human welfare and social reform: philanthropist.’ How on earth were other people’s lives being made better by helping the former IPL chief who is facing a variety of charges? What kind of human welfare and social reform were predicated upon fulfilling the wanderlust of an accused?
Another aspect that Swaraj’s defenders choose to overlook is that the central feature of a humanitarian action is its implicit impersonality and detachment. A rich man bequeathing his property among in his children and relatives has nothing humanitarian about it; on the other hand, giving up one’s property to help improve the lot of people one doesn’t even know, let alone have attachment with, is humanitarian.
The website of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, www.unhcr.org, has clearly defined the humanitarian concept of Hindus. “Hindu Faith-based organizations (FBOs) working in the humanitarian sector have a strong sense of doing seva or service in the communities in which they exist. Seva is the individual’s pathway to inner purification and ultimate liberation. This can take many forms: from charity given as material donations or time effort and energy expended for a particular task done without any expectation or reward.”
Further, the website says, “The service may be done within three different organizational structures: Temple and similar religious organizations, community organizations based around linguistic and geographical origins, and national/international organizations which may be umbrella bodies. The way in which these function will also be different. For example, there may be religious elements incorporated in the way in which temple organizations work with prayers and rituals, whereas community organizations tend to function in a more social secular way.”
Swaraj’s help to Lalit Modi to do with the humanitarian approach as understood by Hindus. The bindi-sindoor Minister, who is keen to portray herself as an ideal Hindu family woman, should have known that.
Even more outrageous are the remarks which are tantamount to ‘your scam is bigger than mine.’ Reacting to the charges of venality made by the Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah said this is was different from letting the Bofors scandal accused Ottavio Quattrocchi flee from India and allowing Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson to leave the country.
This is not the first time that a BJP leader has made such a statement. Whenever Union ministers and ruling party leaders are questioned about some impropriety or the other, they start crowing about the sins of the grand old party. What they don’t realize is that they are in power because the Congress erred on many a count. I also wonder about the point that BJP spokespersons want to make. Is it that a scam running in hundreds of crores is okay because the previous regime was accused of financial improprieties worth lakhs of crores!
Instead of offering disingenuous arguments and indulging in intellectual dishonesty, the supporters of Sushma Swaraj should advise her to admit to her mistake and resign to shield the Narendra Modi government from more ignominy. Misdemeanor with a human face is still a misdemeanor—and, as I argued above, there was no human face in the misdemeanor.