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When to resign

“THE most elementary qualification demanded of a minister is honesty and incorruptibility. It is, however, necessary not only that he should possess this qualification, but also that he should appear to possess it. So opined Sir Ivor Jennings in his classic Cabinet Government.

It follows that when the minister comes under a cloud, he ought to resign while demanding a full inquiry. If he is found innocent of wrongdoing, he can be brought back to office. The head of the cabinet also owes a duty to explain to the nation the facts of the situation and the reasons for the resignation.

Since June 7, following disclosures by The Sunday Times, India has heard charges against Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and the chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje. But there is not a whiff of their resigna­tion, nor any cogent explanation from them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ceaselessly berated his predecessor Manmohan Singh for his silences, has refused to utter a word on the crisis.

Both helped Lalit Modi, founder and the moving spirit behind the multibillion spinning Indian Premier League to settle down in London fully aware of the fact that the enforcement director of the finance ministry was seeking his presence in India to bring him to answer to grave charges. Other scams were aired in the media affecting a union minister, a governor, chief minister and state minister. None had a cogent answer.

Sushma Swaraj claims that Lalit Modi needed travel documents to journey to Portugal and back because his wife was in need of surgery for cancer there. But she acted most improperly in personally calling on the phone the British high commissioner to India, who was then on leave, requesting him to give the travel documents to Modi.

The previous government had warned London that the grant of travel documents to him would “affect Britain’s relations with India”. Sushma Swaraj now assured the high commissioner that this would not happen.

The proper course would have been to consult the finance ministry and then direct the Indian high commission in London to issue temporary travel documents. It became known that her husband had been Lalit Modi’s lawyer for 20 years and her daughter had appeared in court as his counsel.

When a minister comes under a cloud, he ought to bow out.

Vasundhara Raje, a close friend of Lalit Modi, allegedly signed an affidavit in a British court in 2011 supporting his immigration appeal and asked the authorities to keep it a secret. It soon became known that her son, Dushyant Singh, MP, had received a loan of Indian Rs110 million from Lalit Modi. Other financial dealings were also disclosed.

Consider this precedent. In early 2001, The Observer ran a story that Prime Minister Tony Blair’s closest colleague Peter Mandelson, having raised money for the Millennium Dome from the Hinduja brothers, had in 1998 secured a passport for one of them, Srichand.

He had ‘mentioned’ it to Mike O’Brien, immigration minister in the Home Office. All his close colleagues — Alastair Campbell, lord chancellor Alexander Irvine and the foreign secretary Jack Straw — opined that the situation was, as Blair put it, “irretrievable”. He called Mandelson “and told him he had to go”.

Hinduja had received his passport within six months of applying against the average 20 months, and in breach of the British Nationality Act, 1981. Mandelson resigned, though Srichand Hinduja was not accused of wrongdoing and was not a fugitive from justice. It was the impropriety in the very act of recommendation which was fatal.

Diana Woodhouse’s authoritative work Ministers and Parliament surveyed precedents for years and concluded: “The 1980s and early 1990s provided subst­antial evidence that the convention of indivi­dual ministerial respon­sibility requ­ires resign­ation for departmental fault in which the minister was involved, or of which he knew or should have known, and for personal fault, either when acting as a minister without the backing of the department, or in his private capacity.”

In November 1962, reports appeared in the press linking an admiralty clerk convicted of spying, John Vassall, with a minister, T.G.D. Galbraith, who had been his boss as civil lord of the admiralty.

Galbraith resigned on Nov 8, 1962, within days of publication of the press reports. A tribunal of inquiry was appointed on Nov 15. Although its report, published in April 1963, exonerated him, it was recognised that he had done right to resign, pending an inquiry.

The principle which a prime minister, or a chief minister, should follow is to seek the resignation and order a credible inquiry. Silence and prevarications are impermissible.

Unfortunately, that is just the course which governments, enjoying a huge majority in the legislature, adopt to the detriment of probity in public life.

The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

A.G. Noorani, "When to resign," Dawn. 2015-07-11.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political crisis , Politics-India , Political system , Political parties , Political leaders , Terrorist attacks , Terrorism-Pakistan , Social media , Media , Corruption , Sushma Swaraj , PM Narendra Modi , Lalit Modi , Portugal , Rajasthan , London , TGD