Lalit Modi Saga : Where Lies the Truth

Recently, the NDA government at centre was celebrating corruption free one year in office. Several veteran leaders of the congress party retorteded,  give some time cases will bubble up to the top. Were they prophetic or predicting something that they knew. Whatever, may be the case, someone’s prayers has been answered, so it seems. Since then, it has been raining one scam after the other:
1. Sushma Swaraj granting travel paper to Lalit Modi, a fugitive from Indian law;
2. Vasundhara Raje supporting Lalit Modi’s immigration to UK while she was leader of opposition and Modi was evading Indian law;
3. Smriti Irani falsifying her academic credential in an affidavit to election commission;
4. Vinod Tawde fake degree scandal;
5. Pankaja Munde buying chikki for mid day meal at inflated price from blacklisted vendors, flouting due processs;

The speed and regular interval at which scandals have cropped up, it is difficult to assume that these are mere coincidences. Someone out there is trying to embarrass the government. Is it internal war of BJP? Or, political opponents of government are selectively leaking information? In this context the involvement of congress party comes to mind. Like Ravana’s son Meghnaad, congress party has mastered the art of attacking enemy position while staying behind the scene.

Lalit Modi has occupied central theme in most public discourse these days. It is important to understand crimes of Lalit Modi, and perceived improprieties of Sushma Swaraj and Baundhara Raje in relation to Lalit Modi case.

Lalit Modi was accused of financial irregularities in 2010 by the UPA government. Lalit Modi left India in 2011 for England. He never returned. Government of India, UPA government, revoked his passport in 2011, Delhi High Court has restored it in August of 2014. According to court, not enough evidence has been gathered in last four years by government of India to merit revocation of passport. Lalit Modi had got permit for a three year stay in the UK because he had promised to invest one million pounds in British economy. Lalit Modi had asked for a fast track permanent British residence status by promising to invest 10 million pounds in the UK. British Home Office had refused his request, but British court was convinced that Lalit Modi faced persecution and threat to his life in India. Government of India decided against extraditing Lalit Modi. However, Lalit Modi was unable to move out of the UK as his Indian passport was revoked.

In the above context, when Sushma Swaraj, as external affairs minister, had agreed to Lalit Modi visiting his ailing wife in Portugal, the impropriety debate started. Sushma Swaraj and her party had argued:

  • The minister acted on humanitarian ground in good faith;
  • Minister had discretionary power;
  • Minister had asked UK to act according to their rule of law;
  • Modi had come back to UK after visiting his wife. He did not disappear;

Those opposing Sushma Swaraj had claimed that :

  • Minister had conflict of interest;
    • Her husband was a legal advisor to Lalit Modi;
    • Her daughter was working in the firm that represented Lalit Modi legally;
    • Minister had sought favour from Modi about her nephew’s admission in a UK university;
  • Minister never disclosed her move to her colleagues in government or within her department;
  • Modi had lied about his wife and partied in  Portugal
  • Minister must resign.
The chief minister of Rajashtan, Vasundhara Raje has been accused of several improprieties:

  • She had signed an affidavit in 2011 supporting immigration of Lalit Modi to the UK. At the time, Vasundhara Raje was the leader of opposition in Rajasthan assembly. What is more damaging was that Vasundhara Raje had requested her support should not be disclosed to Indian authorities. Mrs. Raje had  claimed that:
    • She had signed the affidavit. But did not depose in front of the judge. So this was an intent which was not executed.
    • She had argued that both she and Lalit Modi were hounded by UPA government. So she did not want any further harassment by informing government.
    • She had signed the affidavit in her personal capacity as a friend of Modi.

    • Whatever, Mrs Raje did for Lalit Modi, it happened in 2011. It was a congress lead government in both centre and state. Why such issues are coming up now?
  • As a person who was occupying a constitutional position like leader of opposition, it was morally wrong to help a fugitive like Lalit Modi;
  • Lalit Modi had supported Dushyant Raje’s business, Vasundhara Raje’s son. Raje was paying Lalit Modi back as quid pro quo. According to critics, Lalit Modi had parked his dirty money in Dushyant Raje’s company in anticipation that no enquiry will be done.
    • Mr Dushayant Singh had argued that finances of his company has been audited by income tax department. Nothing wrong has been detected.
  • Mrs. Raje had shares in Dushyant Raje’s company. 
    • It has been argued that those shares were a gift to her from her son. 
    • She had never encashed those shares. 
    • She had disclosed her shares in her affidavit filed to election commission in 2013.
  • According to her opponents, Mrs Raje must resign from her position of chief minister of Rajasthan.

Since media houses and political opponents of BJP lead NDA are claiming that Lalit Modi is a fugitive, he is avoiding Indian law, he is a criminal, a grave offender who has done financial fraud. It is important to ask, what are the charges against Lalit Modi? What are his crimes? 

  • Several voices, albeit muted voices – Aman Lekhi, a supreme court lawyer, Shekher Gupta, senior journalist and CEO of India Today group, Surjit Bhalla, an economist, ask what are the charges against Lalit Modi. No one seems to have any clarity.

  • Some say, it is FEMA – foreign exchange management act. If so, FEMA charges are not criminal. Lalit Modi’s lawyers can represent him in the court of law. Government could have sought his response through a video conference. In that case, Lalit Modi is not a fugitive. 

  • Some say charges against Lalit Modi are criminal in nature because they involve money laundering. No body is sure if a money laundering charge is framed against Mr. Modi. Upon repeated questioning, in a NDTV debate, Mr. Tom Vadakkan of congress party expressed outrage but could not answer if Lalit Modi has money laundering charge against him. If so, why was he not arrested when it was discovered and Lalit Modi stopped from leaving India?

  • Some say there is Blue corner notice against Lalit Modi. Then we are told such a note only means government should be informed if he visits any country. But in no way, Blue Corner Notice is an arrest warrant. To top that, chief of interpol has recently claimed that government has not given any data to suggest such a warrant should be prepared.

The discourse on Lalit Modi case and the fallout thereof, seems to change everyday. It is, however, clear that many of the alleged crimes were committed during UPA rule between 2009 – 2014. No irregularity relates to present NDA government at the centre that took charge in May 2014. Lalit Modi saga has a great bearing on Indian politics. If Lalit Modi is indeed a criminal, then Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj can be held accountable, may be forced to resign. But if it can be proved that Lalit Modi is not a criminal, then cases against Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj may not hold water.  I think in this great game, someone has to explain to Indian public what is the truth.

Tags: Aman Lekhi, BJP, Blue Collar Notice, Chief Minister, Congress, Dushyant Singh, Financial  Crime, Lalit Modi, Leader of Opposition, Meghnaad, NDA, NDTV,  Pankaja Munde, Ravana, Sekher Gupta, Smriti Irani, Surjit Bhalla, Sushma Swaraj, Tom Vadakkan, UPA, Vasundhara Raje, Vindo Tawde


Magpie Robin Family

We had placed several bird boxes in our balcony. Idea was to help endangered sparrows to find them suitable for nesting.

Bird Box
Sparrows did not come. Indian mynahs had occupied at least two of the boxes. They are noisy and ready to protect their box aggressively. A mynah peeping out of one of the boxes in the morning.

Subah Ho Gayi Mamoo!

One day a Robin family came to inspect the box. Initially they decided against it. But came back a few days later. Couple on a decision making mode about the box.

Decision Making Time
Once they made up their minds, husband and wife would take turn to fly into the box with their possession and food. A male Robin, I think, is waiting to get inside the box. May be resting before getting in.

Waiting to Get in the Box
Robin inside the box. Both birds worked hard to get straw, leaves, and food inside the box. But their baby could not fly.

The baby fell on the floor. It was not able to fly. Then a squirrel came and killed it. Seen in the video below, mother Robin trying to call her baby. She moved away from balcony as I was standing there.
For last few days, I did not hear the mother Robin’s call. May be they have gone somewhere else. I saw another set of birds eyeing the box for nesting. Let me see if I can take a few pictures. Life moves on.

Tags: Bird Box, Magpie Robin, Mynah, Sparrow, Squirrel

Bird Sighting in Our Balcony

We had put bird feed and water in our balcony. Many birds came to drink water, take a dip and nibble on bird feed. Most of the birds were very shy and flew away at the sight of humans. I have tried to photography some of the birds that visited our balcony.
Purple Sunbird
Red Vented Bulbul
Oriental Magpie Robin
Common Myna
Black Headed Myna (Puhya)
Laughing Dove
Common Pigeon
Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

Sushma Swaraj : Tied Down By Personal Bonds

 Moral dilemma of choosing right over wrong has been around since antiquity. In Mahabharata, the blind king Dhritarashtra’s dilemma became evident when he had to choose between Kauravas and Pandvas, as the rightful ruler of the kingdom of Indraprastha. Dhritarashtra knew Kauravas had cheated in the game of dice, he knew Kauravas had disrobed and demeaned Draupadi, queen and wife of Pandavas. Yet he was blinded by love for his sons.  When reminded by his minister and  by his wife, Gandhari, about the immorality of the act, Dhritarashtra apparently said, “But Gandhari, Duryodhana is my son!”

A saga of moral intrigue is being played out in present day Hastinapur where the blind king had to face the battle between right and wrong. Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, minister of external affairs in the present NDA government. She has a long unblemished political innings behind her. Efficient, and articulate she is well respected for her communication skills. Recently, it emerged that Mrs. Swaraj had intervened with British authorities to grant travel papers to Mr. Lalit Modi, an absconder from Indian law. Obvious questions that arise are:

Mrs. Sushma Swaraj has courted controversy when it emerged that:

She had requested British Foreign office to grant papers to Mr. Lalit Modi

Earlier as leader of opposition, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had sought favor from Mr. Lalit Modi about admission of her relation in a college in UK.

Husaband of Mrs. Sushma Swaraj is a legal advisor to Mr. Lalit Modi. Daughter of Mrs. Swaraj is a member of the firm that represents Mr. Modi for his legal matters. 

In her intervention to British Foreign Office, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj had bypassed officers in her department. She did not even consult finance ministry. Enforcement Directorate falls under finance ministry.

Recently when Delhi High Court restored Mr. Modi’s passport, Government of India did not appeal in Supreme Court.

In her defence, it can be argued that, 

  • Mrs Swaraj acted in good faith to let Mr. Modi by his wife, when she is suffering from a terminal illness. Mr. Lalit Modi did not vanish in thin air after the travel paper. He came back to London. However, Lalit Modi was caught partying in Ibiza, Portugal. That is strange given his wife was seriously ill. From Mrs. Sushma Swaraj’s point of view she acted in good faith.

  • Ideally, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj should have discussed the decision with her officers as well as  her ministerial colleagues.  May be she anticipated resistance, justifiably so. That is why,  she used her discretionary power in this case. 

  • Did Mrs Susma Swaraj grant favour to Mr. Lalit Modi as a quid pro quo keeping her husband’s business interest and her daughter legal career in mind? May be Mrs. Sushma Swaraj will be able to answer this puzzle best. So far any evidence of money transfer has emerged. In the era where scams can be as big 176000 crores, will a request for admission to a British academic institution be called a quid pro quo? In society, almost anybody and everybody asks a person they know for favor. Is it really that unusual. Keeping long and unblemished track record of Mrs Sushma Swaraj, I think  this angle should be allowed to rest.

  • Lalit Modi was living legally in the UK using Tier I business visa. There was no arrest warrant against Mr. Modi. Blue corner Interpol notification meant that Indian government must be informed in case Mr. Modi moves to any new destination. 

  • Government of India had decided against initiating extradition process against Mr. Modi. Instead they revoked Mr. Modi’s Indian passport. This passport was restored by Delhi High Court. According to report since 2011 – 2014, Enforcement Directorate has not produced any significant material to justify revocation of Mr. Modi’s passport. The time frame mentioned, UPA was in power. Mr. Modi lead NDA had assumed power only three months in Aug, 2014. 

  • Should Mrs. Swaraj had met Lalit Modi in UK? Politicians meet all sorts of people. Many enterprising people have phone and e-mail addresses of influential leaders. Mr. Lalit Modi was an economic offender and not a heinous criminal. Cases against him are yet to be proven in court of law. In the UK, Mrs. Swaraj had met many influential Indians, among them one was Lalit Modi. Mrs. Swaraj had dinner with Mr. Modi, that also in a group and not a private affair.

The perception of public morality appears to be very different in India compared to western democracy. In India leaders in many political establishments, barring BJP and Left parties, usually retain top leadership position within the family. Does this not open up  potential moral dilemma and conflict of interest? We have seen transgression of family members of high and mighty gets ignored in India. 

In the complex social environment of India people are linked to one another many a time through social and/or family ties. Many enterprising people make it their business to find relationship to rich, famous and influential people. Those in the   position of power have to learn how to separate their official position from social relationship. A case in point is Mr. Narendra Modi, who does not even allow his mother to stay in his official residence. Lest an allegation of conflict of interest crops up. I think India must get laws to deal with conflict of interest. 

Whatever may be our national trait, I do not think issue of morality at high public office must be taken seriously. Those who indulge in violation of code of ethics, willingly or unknowingly, must be help accountable for their deed. I think, Mrs. Swaraj by her indiscretion has created a great damage to her government’s development centric agenda and its high moral ground. She must pay the penalty. But asking an efficient minister to resign, should be wrong. I think Mrs. Swaraj should apologise to nation through parliament, acknowledge her mistake and carry on with her duties. That will be only good for the nation.
Tags: Blue Corner Notice,  Conflic of Intereste, Dhritarashtra, Draupadi, Enforcement Directorate, Finance Ministry, Gandhari, Hastinapur, Indraprastha, Interpol, Kaurava, Lalit Modi, Mahabharata,  Ministry of External Affairs, Narendra Modi, Pandava, Sushma Swaraj, Tier I Visa, United Kingdom

Janhavi Gadkar : Materially Successful but Morally Bankrupt

Post economic liberalisation, India has young population many of them are professionally successful and are upwardly mobile. Who work hard party harder. Janhavi Gadkar was one such people. Vice President at 35, in one of the biggest companies in India. Young and beautiful. Driving a good car, drinking whisky returning home late. She had everything material, but not her moral compass.

On 9th June, 2015, corporate lawyer Janhavi Gadkar partied with her friends. She then drove under the influence of alcohol on the wrong side of eastern expressway, slammed her Audi car at 120 km/hr into a Maruti Omni taxi. Janhavi’s state of the art car had air bag. She was saved but knocked unconscious. May be the effect of blood alcohol that was 4 times the permissible level. Her victims were not so lucky. Cab driver, Mohammad Sayyad, and one passenger, Salim Saboowala died, leaving behind two devastated families. It is alleged that the lawyer instead of helping, tried to bribe her way out.

What Janhavi did was wrong. She had many choices. She could have taken a cab. She could have asked her sober friends to drop her home. She could have stayed in a hotel overnight. Yet, she chose to drive home in an inebriated state. According to a version submitted to police, she had spent close to an hour on the marine drive. Was she drinking or she was waiting for alcohol to get out of her system? Still when she decided to drive home, she was so drunk that she not only missed her way she was not aware that she was on the wrong side of the expressway.

Janhavi, her family and her battery of lawyers, will try to present the case as an accident. They will claim she is a hard working, helpful and nice person. But these people have to be reminded that, Janhavi’s victims too were nice people with family. Mohammad Sayyed had worked hard to raise and educate his kids. He was considered a safe driver, who never had an accident in his more than 30 years career. So was Salim Sabuwala. Sabuwala was returning home celebrating his sons high school graduation. 

This incidence cannot be regarded as an accident. Janhavi Gadkar of all people was a lawyer. She must know that driving drunk is an offence. She was also driving on the wrong side of the road. Her mistake has destroyed two families. She must be made to pay for killing two innocent people. She should be given two consecutive life sentences. She must compensate victims families for the lost income. She must be sacked from her job. Her licence to practice law must be revoked. She does not fit the qualification to become a lawyer. She has no rudimentary understanding of the rule of law.

I am sure very soon Janhavi will be out on bail. Her lawyers will argue it was an accident. Why only rich and wealthy are always targeted, when accidents happen daily on Indian roads. Like Sanjeev Nanda, and Alistair Pereira and many other rich and famous like them, a battery of lawyers will make the case drag on for decades. Eventually people will forget that it was an Audi not a truck that killed two people. It was Janak and not Jhanvi that was driving the car. Jhanvi’s blood will come out without a trace of alcohol. Jhanvi will be back in her life. Get married, get promoted to become global head of legal team.

Except the families that lost two members have to live everyday with the memory. This is India. Life goes on. We need money and wealth, we need morals as well.

Tags: Accident, Alistair Pereira, Audi, Corporate Lawyer, Drunk Driving, Eastern Expressway, Janhavi Gadkar, Mohammad Sayyed, Salim Saboowala, Sanjeev Nanda

Maggi Noodles, Lead Contamination, and Celebrity Responsibility

Contamination of Maggi instant noodle with lead has become a major issue between manufacturing company and governments at state and central level.  Maggi noodles have been withdrawn from shops that are run by government, many states have even banned the sale of product and army has advised its canteen not to cook the product. 

Can the presence of lead in Maggi instant noodles be blamed on celebrities that endorsed the product? The opinion is divided. A court in Bihar has ordered FIR be filed against celebrities that endorsed the produce. On the other hand, there are many who believe it is ridiculous to sue the celebrities.

Maggi noodle was launched in India in 1982. Initially, it made noodles of refined wheat flour. Gradually, it diversified into atta noodles and oats noodle. Today, Maggi noodles occupy 70% of market share in a 4000 crore rupees Indian instant noodle market, that is growing at the rate of 30% year. Anybody and everybody knew that Maggi noodles were as close to junk food as it could get. They are full of salt, carbohydrates and transfat with little fibre and  protein. People liked it for taste and convenience of creating a meal in 2 min. Question emerges, if Maggi noodles is such a bad product, 

  • Why was such a product allowed to come and last in Indian market for more than 30 years? 
  • Why did no one protested about empty calory content of Maggi noodles?
Maggi has reached the peak of market share among other things by aggressive marketing  strategy using celebrities in sleek advertisement campaigns. True celebrities have made claim that Maggi is good for health atta Maggi, that Maggi has fibre as in oat Maggi noodle etc. People have reported that neither atta Maggi nor oats Maggi noodles contain exactly what they claim. Celebrities  could have, most certainly, been challenged for misrepresentation of facts and fooling people.

In all fairness, however, celebrities cannot have any knowledge of Maggi containing lead. Celebrities are not equipped to test products for contents. That too for contents that probably are not covered in the label. They would go by what company says and based on what food regulator accepts and grants licence to market the product. We may be angry, but our anger cannot be misdirected. The total fault of lead content of Maggi lies with authorities that did not collect and analysed samples at random at regular intervals.

Tags: Advertisement Campaign, Atta Noodle, Carbohydrate, Contamination, Court, Fat, Fibre, Junk Food, Maggi Noodle, Marketing, Nutritional Value, Oats Noodle, Salt, Sue

Maggi Instant Noodle : That Sinking Feeling

Grown up on Maggi instant noodles, it was shocking to hear that my favourite food brand had 17 times higher levels of lead than permissible. The report came out after a surprise check by a food inspector in UP. Thereafter many other states did the testing. A few states did found elevated level of lead others did not. Government  outlets in several states have withdrawn Maggi from their shelves. A nation wide ban is being contemplated.

Findings have generated a countrywide debate about abysmal state of food safety in India, with brunt being borne by Nestle India, the maker of Maggi. Obvious question is since how long Maggi has been contaminated with lead? 

  • Maggi instant noodles was introduced to Indian market in 1982.
  •  For more than 30 years innumerable number of Indians have consumed Maggi, many times more than a billion plates have been served.
  • According to reports, in 2014 alone more than 100 billion servings of Maggi noodle was consumed globally. 
  • Has there been any documented case of lead poisoning related to consumption of Maggi been reported?

Without diluting the seriousness of the observation, given Maggi is targeted to attract children, it is important to monitor at random samples of packaged food for the veracity of their content. It is important to understand that consumption of food laced  with lead may have serious consequences on health and well being of children as well as adults. Obvious questions that emerge are: 

  • What has administrators at food safety and standards authority of India  – FSSAI been doing till now?
  • Inspite of the poor state of our food quality administration, it will be surprising that nobody has picked up samples at random for analysing veracity of claim made on the package? 
  • This may indicate either incompetence or corruption, in case some official has suppressed or altered findings of adverse report for personal gratification. 
  • Either scenario is inexcusable and guilty must be held accountable in food safety administration.
Maggi noodles by Nestle India has captured 70% of Rs. 4000 crore market that is growing rapidly. It is unlikely, Nestle India would deliberately add lead into its lucrative brand that is minting money. Question arises, did Nestle India has wilfully lowered its manufacturing standards given lax and or inadequate food safety regulation in India?

  • Is the manufacturing practice followed by Nestle India is less stringent  compared to that practiced in EU or USA? 
  • Nestle has several manufacturing plants in India. One in Himachal Pradesh, one in Goa, one in Punjab. 
  • Is Nestle India not following good manufacturing practice in all its manufacturing plants in India? 
  • Given no one will knowingly add lead, it is important to know the source of lead contamination. Are they not employing   an identical source to procure ingredients to manufacture their products.  
  • Is our ground water the culprit for lead contamination? 
Experts, like Deepa Bhajekar, have also expressed doubt of assay method employed by different states. Some labs have analysed sachet containing spicing agent alone and found high lead content. Other labs have assayed noodles plus sachet content together and found lead levels to be in permissible limits. It is important to 
  • streamline assay methods, 
  • streamline and quality check of raw materials and 
  • government agencies must undertake comprehensive analysis of all food products. 

While we jump upon maggi noodle and Nestle India, because they are big brands, we must look at  other snacks that we regularly consume. Many of them  are fried on metal skillet at high temperature. There is every possibility that oil is rancid plus oil has extracted heavy metal from the container. The debate on lead content of maggi noodles should be used as a springboard to revamp our food safety regulations. Time we wake up to contamination of our food, fruits, vegetables and drinking water. 

Tags: Deepa Bhajekar, Food Safety, Fruits, FSSAI, Good Manufacturing Practice, Lead, Maggi Noodles, Nestle India, Testing, Water, Vegetable

A Glimpse of Wildlife at Bhangarh

As we were walking towards Bhangarh palace, two huge trees occupied each side of the trail near the palace gate. One tree was occupied by a langoor family. The second one was a den of monkey family. 

Langoor Family Relaxing on the Porch

 Above, langoor family elders, most probably male members, seated leisurely in their den. Below, ladies with a new born member of the family. Please note this baby does not yet have proper coat. It must be very young.

Baby Langoor with Mother
Another photo of baby languor with mother, below. Langoor mother was not very aggressive when I tried to photograph her baby.

Baby Langoor with Mother
Monkey family members were also seated on their balcony. Some young members were as usual monkeying around.

Moneky Family
Monkey family also had a new member. This baby also appeared quite young, without proper coat. Unlike languor mother, monkeys were more aggressive and threatening when I tried to picture the baby.
New Member in Monkey Family