A file photo of fugitive Indian businessman and former IPL head Lalit Modi (right) with Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje

From the Lalit Modi-Vasundhara Raje case to the Chhattisgarh minister’s wife’s appropriation of forest land to those accused in the Panama Papers leak, the message is loud and clear

Under the NDA government’s watch, investigative agencies such as Income Tax (IT) department, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and CBI have been making raids supposedly to nail corrupt men. Only courts will decide in the coming years whether such raids are based on substantive evidence or if they are meant to create optical illusion.

But an average citizen can see for oneself that the hammer has not fallen on any BJP leader in the last three and a half years that the party has been in power. Are we to understand that the leaders of the BJP and its allies are clean? Or, does it mean that the investigative agencies have chosen to look the other way when the leaders belonging to the ruling party are caught with their pants down?

There are so many tell-tale cases. Perhaps the first and most publicised case the NDA government faced after it came to power was the one involving Vasundhara Raje, BJP’s chief minister in Rajasthan. She had supported a fugitive like Lalit Modi who had fled to the UK after serious money laundering charges were levelled against him under the UPA regime. Raje had, through an affidavit in the British Court, then defended Modi and castigated the Indian Government’s charge as “politically motivated.”

This revelation came into the public domain when the NDA government came to power at the Centre. But these disclosures came about not because of the exertions of the investigative agencies but because Lalit Modi chose to make it public.

Raje was clearly acting against the nation’s interest when she was secretly defending a man who had fled the country on serious corruption charges. Mind you, her affidavit had made an earnest plea to the British court not to reveal her identity to the Indian authorities! So much for her love for Bharat Mata!

But then her love for Lalit Modi was not simply because of the “long family ties” as she tried to justify it, but because there was material basis to it.

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) which was investigating the case of money laundering against Lalit Modi had stumbled upon evidence that Modi’s firm Anand Heritage Hotels Pvt Ltd (AHHPL) had received Rs 21 crore from one Mauritius-based company called Wilton Investment Ltd. While pursuing the money trail, the ED found that Rs 11.63 crore out of the Rs 21 crore was transferred by Modi’s firm to Niyant Heritage Hotels Pvt Ltd (NHHPL), owned by Raje’s son Dushyant Singh. Modi bought shares, each valued at Rs 10, of a new company floated by Singh, a BJP MP, at a whopping premium of Rs 96,180 per share. The company has, since, gone into oblivion.

It was a clear case of quid pro quo. But the ED did not raid Dushyant Singh’s premises. The NDA government chose to look the other way. The case died down. Raje continued to rule happily thereafter.

The Lalit Modi-Vasundhara Raje liaison was not just a one-off case. There have been credible evidence against many BJP leaders and ministers but no investigative agency has been at work.

Take the recent case of land grabbing by powerful Chhattisgarh minister Brijmohan Agrawal, as meticulously corroborated by a series of Indian Express reports last week.

Look at the sequence of events. Way back in 1994, a farmer named Vishnu Ram Sahu was persuaded to donate 4.12 hectares of land to the Water Resources Department for public good. This plot, a part of a parcel of land covering 61.7 hectares, was then immediately handed over to the Forest Department in lieu of land submerged by a minor irrigation project. As per rules, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests gave the clearance for this transfer. In 2003, the Union Ministry spent Rs 22.90 lakh for afforestation of this land.

But, lo and behold, six years later, in 2009, the land was restored in the name of Vishnu Ram Sahu, who, for the public records, sold this 4.12 hectare plot to Sarita Agrawal, the Minister’s wife, for a consideration of a little over Rs 5 lakh. Sarita Agrawal and her son are now building a resort there.

That is not all. A subsequent Indian Express report told us that Agrawals have actually encroached upon 13.9 hectares of land for the project. A whistleblower had mentioned this in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 2, 2016. The letter gave all the details and urged the Prime Minister to take immediate action. The Prime Minister’s office merely forwarded the letter to the Chief Secretary of Chhattisgarh on December 26.

In the last seven months, no investigative agency has been asked to interrogate and arrest the culprits. Rather the last six months have been ustilised by the government agencies, in both the state and the Centre, to prepare grounds for the protection of the minister and his wife.

The message is clear. If you are part of the BJP, then even if you are corrupt, the long arm of the law would not reach you!

Well, you may not be directly a part of the BJP but if you support the BJP government from outside, you can be rest assured that you would be protected from the prying eyes of the investigative agencies!

Take the big list of names of supposed money launderers and tax evaders worldwide that came into the public domain as Panama Papers in April, 2016. The India list has many high-profile names which are very close to the current BJP government.

We often dismiss Pakistan as a banana republic where a ruling class oligarchy comprising political, business and military elite has been plundering the country.

But look at what Pakistan has done? Based on the Panama Papers revelations, in just about 16 months, the sitting Prime Minister of the country has been forced out of office. Pakistan must be credited for waging a credible fight against corruption that did not even spare the chief executive of the country!

And look at what our government, which makes so much public noise about fighting corruption, has done about the Panama Papers? We keep hearing that notices have been sent to all those who were named in those incriminating documents but no one seems to have been raided nor anyone has been interrogated in the last 16 months.

That shows that the joke is on us; that we have turned into a banana republic; that we go out of the way to protect the rich.

Take just one case of Amitabh Bachchan. The Panama Papers, as put together by the Indian Express, tell us that Amitabh Bachchan had set up as many as four offshore shipping companies way back in 1993, full 10 years before Indians were legally allowed to start an overseas entity. Amitabh Bachchan had clearly indulged in illegal activity; the only conclusion that one can draw is that he did so to park his black money abroad.

There are many other prominent lawyers and businessmen from India who have also been named in the Panama Papers for parking money abroad. But most of them have taken the plea that they did so after 2003 when the government allowed such investment. That is a matter of investigation if such gentlemen had declared these investments in their Income Tax returns. The government, as expected, has maintained a studied silence in this matter.

But Amitabh Bachchan cannot even have that excuse as he diverted money abroad when it was patently illegal. The only defence Amitabh Bachchan has publicly adduced is that he was suffering from amnesia; that he could not recall making any such investment.

Clearly, Amitabh Bachchan’s was an open-and-shut case. The least the government could do was to interrogate the superstar.

But what has our government done? It has not only shielded him; it has made him brand ambassador of India to represent Indian values!

Should we not be ashamed by this charade that goes by the name of the crusade against corruption?

Author: N R MOHANTY

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