Nirav Modi-PNB fraud: Modi’s ‘clean, anti-corruption’ image under attack?
New Delhi, Feb 21: They say politics is all about perception. Going by the 'logic', the latest banking scandal involving Punjab National Bank (PNB)--the country's second largest PSU bank--has directly hit the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.
While the mastermind of the scam, billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi, and some of his close-aides have fled the country, people of India are wondering how a man and his gang could loot Rs 11,400 crore of taxpayers' money without the government getting any whiff of the multi-crore fraud.
Although there is no evidence about any link between the scam and any of the leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, the Union finance ministry, under which the country's banking system falls, has a lot of answering to do.
PM Modi, whose entire election campaign during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was centred around the scam-hit previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre, too needs to speak out about the multi-crore fraud as demanded by the Opposition.
Remember, Modi, the then chief minister of Gujarat and the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, asked people of India to vote against the previous UPA regime as it is corrupt. Over the years, the BJP-led NDA government continues to take great pride in calling itself a corruption-free regime.
In his poll rallies, the PM stated that he would act as a watchman (chowkidar) for the country. How could the nation forget his famous statement, "na khaoonga, na khaane doonga (will neither do nor allow anyone to do corruption)"?
While the PM continues to maintain his stoic silence over the scandal, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday issued his first statement on the PNB-Nirav Modi fraud case.
However, experts were not convinced with Jaitley's "defence". The finance minister put the entire blame on the PNB management and auditors in an attempt to disassociate the Centre from the scam.
"There is an important challenge where supervisory agencies must now introspect: What are the additional mechanisms they have to put in place to ensure that stray cases don't become a pattern again? And stray cases are nipped in the bud and an example be made of people that these... are never repeated," Jaitley told the 41st annual meeting of Association of Development Financial Institutions in Asia and Pacific.
Jaitley did not say anything about the government's plans to bring back Nirav Modi to the country for a free and fair trial. The minister also did not say anything about the means to recover the lost money.
All these days, the finance ministry tried its best to avoid answering questions regarding the scam. In a bizarre manner the Centre entrusted defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to address press meets.
The BJP, on its part, quickly shifted the blame on the previous UPA regime stating that the entire scam started in 2011. In fact, BJP president Amit Shah took credit that it is the Modi government which unearthed the scam. Shah asserted that the government had taken "strict action" in the bank fraud case.
He said assets worth more than Rs 5,000 crore were seized within three days of the fraud coming to light, and that investigation was on.
However, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said that a majority of the Letters of Understanding (LoUs) in the Rs 11,400-crore scam were either issued or were renewed in the bank in 2017-18.
The six-year-long scam--from 2011-2017--put both the UPA and the NDA governments in the dock.
Former finance minister and veteran BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said that in order to put an end to the political drama over the scam, the government needs to reveal information surrounding the fraud.
"If the Nirav Modi scam started in 2011, then how many LoUs were issued year-wise? For the sake of further clarity, May 2014 should be treated as the dividing line and the figures should indicate the number of LoUs issued till May 2014 and thereafter in the rest of the year," Sinha wrote in a column for NDTV.
He also asked the finance minister to reveal the amount involved in each LoU.
While the viral picture of PM Modi with Nirav Modi taken during the World Economic Forum in Davos is a "silly" way of dragging the government into the whole scam, it is the "constitutional and democratic responsibility" of the PM and the finance minister to lay bare all the facts and figures involving the whole scam.
Otherwise, the maun (silence) of the Modi government won't do any good to the BJP ahead of polls in several states this year and the all-important 2019 General Elections.