This week, we sensationally learnt that the billionaire businessman Nirav Modi was the mastermind of the Rs 11,000 crore PNB scam before he fled the country days before the CBI filed an FIR against him and other associates.
The government has decided to cancel his passport but this may mean nothing as we’ve learnt from our experiences with other similar fugitives, accused of financial fraud worths crores of rupees. Notable among them are the liquor baron Vijay Mallya and the former IPL chairman, Lalit Modi.
The Congress launched a scathing attack while accusing the Modi government of being a partner in crime of what it termed was the ‘loot and escape’ phenomenon. The party also referred to Nirav and Lalit Modi as chhota (little) Modi in a subtle hint at PM Modi’s direct involvement in abetting their escape from India.
The reference of chhota Modi didn’t go down well with the BJP after an angry union minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, addressed a hurriedly called press conference. Prasad and his cabinet colleague, Nirmala Sitharaman, also sought to imply that Nirav Modi had started to defraud the Indian banks since 2011, when Manmohan Singh was the country’s prime minister.
Politicians’ slugfest aside, here are some of the key developments that will make it impossible for the BJP and PM Modi to find an escape route on the PNB scam.
Key developments as they happened:
Nirav Modi leaves the country on 1 January 2018 with his brother Nishal Modi. Nishal, a Belgian national, is married to Mukesh Ambani’s niece, Isheta Salgaocar. Ambani had thrown a lavish pre-wedding party for them in Mumbai in 2016.
Nirav Modi’s uncle Mehul Choksy too fled India on 4 January 2018. Two days later, his wife, a US citizen, also left India as if it was all carefully planned.
The government and its agencies astonishingly remained in sleep mode and refused to react to these developments. This despite the fact that a complaint against Nirav was sent to the PMO in the past. On 26 July, 2016, the PMO was reported to have been handed all papers regarding Nirav Modi and one of his relatives. It was said that the complaint had 42 FIRs. The PMO even acknowledged the complaint and reportedly sent registrar of companies to take some action. This was confirmed by the complainant, SV Hari Prasad, who had submitted all the documents to the PMO during this term of the government headed by PM Modi.
Contrary to the BJP leaders’ claims, the CBI FIR clearly shows that the loans were taken in February 2017- 9 &10 February to be precise. (Read the FIR below, tweeted by noted Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan).
And yet, a fugitive, the mastermind of India’s biggest banking fraud, was happily posing with the PM in Davos on 23 January 2018. How could the PM allow him in his presence unless he was invited there as his guest? Why did he or his aides not make any efforts to have him extradited since he was already aware of his shenanigans?
What’s even more disturbing are the media reports that Nirav Modi and his brother allegedly had a private meeting with PM Modi in Davos.
It wasn’t until 31 January when the probe agencies woke up to the reality that Nirav Modi had defrauded the PNB and other banks of thousands of crores of rupees before fleeing India. The government now says that it will take every action possible to bring him back to India, but unfortunately even PM Modi knows that it’s mere lip service to avoid any pitfalls on his political future. If the Congress finally decides to quit ‘AC-room politics’ and go around the country raising these difficult questions, it’s hard to imagine how the Modi government will emerge unscathed from this political crisis.
Merely posting few sporadic tweets and holding press conferences may not be enough for the Congress to take on the present government. Many expected the party to hit the streets on Rafale, the expose exclusively published by Janta Ka Reporter, but their attack on the government remained confined to press conferences and tweets.
The Congress can take a leaf out of the BJP’s book on how to mobilise the masses. What Amit Shah doesn’t stop doing even while in power, Rahul Gandhi has failed to do even when out of power.