Lalit Modi’s carpet bombing through constant tweets has implicated people in high places, making the political establishment duck for cover. His swagger comes from the knowledge that there is no proven case against him
By Shantanu Guha Ray
In the heart of Delhi—actually in coffee shops in plush Khan Market—most people are checking the Twitter handle of Lalit Modi and wondering what will surface next. Cricket’s richest fugitive, holed up in London, is tweeting every now and then, each message creating ripples in Delhi, a city Modi loved to visit for family, work and late night soirees.
He is enjoying every moment of his new-found glory, a star despite defeat staring at him in the face. After all, his on-the-edge-pot-boiler script is making life difficult for those who got involved with him, his Indian Premier League (IPL) and all that is associated with cricket in India, including sleaze cash.
Modi knows people remember his past. As a student at Duke University in the US, he was charged with drug trafficking, kidnapping and assault after a busted cocaine deal. He returned to India without finishing his probation, pleading ill-health but was totally unrepentant.
Friends who know him claim that he knows he can survive after burning bridges. His best author was Paulo Coelho and the flashy archer Arjuna from the Mahabharata was his favourite character. In the past, he loved name-dropping because he was powerful.
Now, out of power, he loves name-bombing. That is his way of staying relevant.The latest to join I-Love-Lalit bandwagon are a bevy of former judges, a former top cop, a top editor and a seasoned economist, their revelations giving instant ammunition to a mentally stressed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership.
Former Supreme court judges, Justice Jeevan Reddy, Justice SB Sinha and the late Justice UC Banerjee supported Modi, arguing “he is not a fugitive”. They were joined by former Mumbai police commissioner RD Tyagi. The New Indian Express editor Prabhu Chawla also stood witness for Modi in the case along with his wife Mrinal and father KK Tyagi in a London court. Interestingly, Chawla—whose son Ankur, a lawyer, often represented the BCCI—was once keen to acquire an IPL team in partnership with some friends.
There was another one, Surjit S Bhalla, a top economist, who penned an opinion piece in The Indian Express, saying why it was not wrong for Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj to help Modi. Bhalla’s moot point was the same as the judges: Modi is not a fugitive.
But their collective stand did not silence Delhi’s guns of opposition. Consider this one. Officers in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) are wondering what to do with the case of Vivek Nagpal, a controversial businessman, whom Modi described as a top hawala dealer in Delhi, and Omita Paul, President Pranab Mukherjee’s powerful secretary, whom Modi claims he is close to.
That Nagpal was sitting in a special row during the swearing-in ceremony of Narendra Modi’s cabinet last year is not good news for the president’s office or the ruling BJP. Worse, Modi—almost like a Guy Fawkes of cricket—has attached a 75-page document in PDF format on Nagpal in one of his tweets, offering loads of detail on this controversial businessman, who is often seen at an exclusive club at The Oberoi in Delhi.
The BJP is also worried because there are reports that officers of the Income Tax—some of them on a hyperbole after the PM told them not to fear any minister—are keen to probe whether Modi used a charge card of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje for expenses abroad. IT officers, it is rumored, could even hand over the files pertaining to the charge card issue to the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
These are not cases in isolation. These are new fireflies in the Lalit Modi smokescreen that already has 9,00,000 followers on Twitter. Only a fortnight ago, Modi had 5,00,000 followers. There are chances the figure could cross 1,50,00,000 by the end of June. His followers want more, some tweeting back: “Wow Lalit, Yeh Dil Maange More”.
The BJP does not know what has hit the party. “He is making baseless statements. The party’s position is clear, he is a fugitive and will be brought back to India soon,” argues BJP’s Sambit Patra, who has been spending a little over 14 hours in news studios and offering telephonic comments. The party, it is reliably learnt, has even set up a core team to handle the Modi crisis.
Modi, on the contrary, is enjoying life. His friends in Delhi claim that the former IPL chief commissioner is partying regularly, regaling his friends with what he calls “the story of my assassins”. He said he borrowed the line from a novel written by journalist Tarun Tejpal, who started Tehelka, an investigative magazine. “Where is that bloody fellow, hiding somewhere in India?” he even asked a London friend.
And then, he was back on his tweets.
“So all those (who) are on a witch hunt—time to know you all live in (a) glass house. By the way I document every meeting when someone asks for a bribe and I circulate to my lawyers (xyz) has asked for this in exchange for this. Off course I never paid. But record I did,” the disgraced cricket czar tweeted recently.
The thinly veiled threats—Modi is tweeting almost every hour—is increasing everyone’s stress levels, the latest being how he dined with Priyanka and Robert Vadra last year at a London restaurant. Former law minister HR Bhardwaj told India Legal: “Lalit Modi has started a storm and no one will be able to escape it.”A flabbergasted Congress spokesperson, Randeep Surjevala, called Modi a juvenile, almost like a teacher admonishing a Class III student, and kept quiet at that. Probably the suave Surjewala—high on energy in busting his BJP opponents on the Modi issue—did not know how the Vadras would react to the tweet.
Modi’s tweet mentions his meeting Priyanka and Robert Vadra in London
Surjewala knew Modi would not stop at that. He has already castigated the current IPL head Rajeev Shukla, asking about “secrets of his wealth from a lowly reporter to a television magnate”. There were rumors that Modi could soon drop some more names to link Shukla to some “questionable characters” in cricket.
Shukla, who refused comment, has—it is reliably learnt—already tried to reach out to Modi, who has not responded. The disgraced cricket czar does not want to talk but drops hints of fire, indicating in his interview with India Today how “in time of war the general never sleeps, you have to be ready for the unexpected”.
He has also demanded that the Congress come clean on its association with the “Modi family”. “My specific query to Congress Party —specifically—has the Modi Group or as a matter of fact any group ever provided you any of your MP’s any hospitality, favors, election funding, rides on planes, hotel, cars, dinners, plants in your constituency etc etc,” he tweeted.
Modi knows he has everything on his side, the most important being the law. He has enough ammunition as he has meticulously maintained his records, taped his conversations and collected dope on India’s corrupt heads.
Consider this one, another Modi beamer, to those who sought favours from him: “I have record book 4 each and every ticket seat no wise. What value it was and who paid for it cash or check or free,” tweeted Modi.
He is wanted by the ED for economic offenses but positioned himself as a crusader against corruption in politics. A line added to his Twitter profile reads: “Busy cleaning Political Mafia”. He has even gone after finance minister Arun Jaitley, asking him to “tell the truth, for once”.
“So all those are on a witch hunt —time to know you all live in (a) glass house. By the way I document every meeting when someone asks for a bribe and I circulate to my lawyers… Off course I never paid. But record I did.” —A tweet from Lalit Modi
“Bureaucrats #public #servants please also declare if you have taken any favor, hospitality cash etc etc from #modi family in the past,” he tweeted. “While we are cleaning up —let’s not leave the babus who have been quietly siphoning or blackmailing all of us like in ED and IT departments.”
Writer-filmmaker Pritish Nandy says he has become a fan of Modi: “Whether you like @LalitKModi or not, follow his twitter ID. It’s explosive. I have a feeling he has law on his side and hence, confident.”
Former CBI director RK Raghavan wrote in a portal that “Interpol was not a super investigating agency that can be ordered about by all and sundry to nab dreadful criminals. The fact is that the Lyon-based organization is a paper tiger, a little more than a glamorous post office, which has been overrated by some ignoramuses.”
Modi is enjoying life with the glitterati, like supermodel Naomi Campbell.
Raghavan, who once headed Interpol in India, said in a telephonic interview that one should not read anything into the pictures of Modi with former Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble which have been floating around. “Dubious people often want pictures with powerful people. But Noble has left the Interpol and you should not take everything Modi saying as gospel truth.” Noble, in fact, told The Indian Express that New Delhi never sought any extradition of Modi during the time he (Noble) was with Interpol. Raghavan said that even if the ED gets enough evidence against Modi to seek his extradition, “it would take several years before anything of significance takes place”.
He cited the example of former Indian Navy Lt Commander, Ravi Shankaran, involved in the War Room leak case at Naval Headquarters. Shankaran is currently holed up in London and India has not been able to extradite him despite substantial evidence against him. In fact, a UK court quashed an extradition order issued by the British Home Secretary.
In short, it is evident that Delhi does not have a solid case against Modi, who has certainly shaken up the political establishment, forcing everyone to duck for cover. The palpitations are evident in the BJP headquarters.
But the BJP is still nervous, the smoke has not died down for the party. Arun Jaitley is issuing clarifications on the sidelines of a meeting in Stanford, updating himself on a police case filed against him by party colleague Kirti Azad in a Delhi Cricket issue. Azad has also blamed Jaitley for being the root cause of the crisis of Indian cricket of which Modi was once an integral part. Sushma Swaraj, who once followed none on Twitter, is tweeting in response to attacks on her integrity. And many BJP MPs have demanded the party should not help Modi, a bhagoda (the term—till recently—was used by the BJP for Arvind Kejriwal).
But no one knows how to stop, or even control Modi. In Kolkata, a physically weakened BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya, who has several run-ins with Modi in board meetings, is not shown the tweets by his son, Abhishek, because no one wants Dalmiya to get disturbed about the allegations against almost anyone and everyone in cricket.
Strangely, it was the BCCI that had alleged that Modi had manipulated the IPL process, handed out favors and run the tournament for the benefit of a coterie of family and friends. But now the world’s richest cricket board is totally silent.
But Modi threatens to clean Indian politics like Gandhian Anna Hazare. Except, as a portal wonderfully remarked: “Cricket’s consummate insider is the antithesis of Hazare, with his Armani suits, Rambagh Palace suites and jet-setting exile in London and Ibiza and Montenegro, akin to the chemo that destroys everything in its path—good, bad and indifferent.”
The story is far from over and all eyes are on the monsoon session of parliament.