Bharara in damage control mode over Modi summons (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 25th Oct 2014
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has sought to "cover up his informal involvement in the 25 September issue of summons to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by the Southern District US Federal Court in New York". Apparently anxious that a further expose on his role would be carried on 19 October in continuation of The Sunday Guardian report on Bharara in the issue dated 12 October (Bharara, other US officials 'assisted those behind court-summons to Modi'), the US Attorney in NYC filed papers that day itself before the US Federal Court in the southern district of that city, averring that as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi enjoyed immunity from court proceedings for actions committed by him. In doing so, he was carrying out a request from the US Department of State. However, Bharara made it clear that the legal process would resume, should Modi demit office. The court gave the complainants against the PM 15 days to respond to the State Department's contention of immunity for Modi, thereby indicating that the legal process in the matter is far from over.
An official in Newark claimed that "the lawyer for the American Justice Center (AJC), which filed the case against Prime Minister Modi, was closely known to Bharara". According to them, "Gurpatwant Singh Pannun was chosen by the AJC on the basis of an informal recommendation by Bharara". It needs to be noted that sources familiar with the US Attorney's office aver that Preet Bharara was "not in any way responsible for the case which resulted in the 25 September court summons to Prime Minister Modi". Also, it is a fact that Preet Bharara's financial integrity is known to be impeccable. However, multiple sources allege that he is closely associated with pro-Khalistan elements active in New York.
According to these sources, Bharara's belated effort to show that he was not involved in the case "was motivated by fear that he would go the Preeta Bansal way". The latter was heading the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2005 when she successfully petitioned the Obama administration to deny a visa to then Chief Minister Modi. As a consequence, an effort last month by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to appoint her as a judge was abandoned in the face of opposition from the Indian-American community.
Preet Bharara, who has national ambitions and who is claimed to be having the backing of US envoy to the UN, Samantha Power, as well as others such as Huma Abedin, an influential aide to Hillary Clinton, "is in the running for Attorney-General of the United States and therefore wants to avoid any controversy created by the exposure of his informal role in the court summons to Prime Minister Modi", according to a prominent community activist in New York City. The worry among those backing Bharara is that opposition from the Indian-American community may damage his chances for Senate approval for the post of the nation's top law and justice officer, hence that he was "advised to cover his tracks by going to court and seeking to withdraw the summons".
A senior official pointed out that "If the New York Attorney was sincere in his opposition to the summons, he could have gone to the court for its dismissal on 26 September itself, after the White House made clear that Modi had immunity while in office, or at any time during Prime Minister Modi's stay in the US (till 2 October), or during the next two weeks thereafter". Instead, his detractors say, Bharara "rushed into damage control mode only when it became clear that the Indian-American community would oppose any effort to reward him with a top job" because of reports of his clandestine role in the legal proceedings against Prime Minister Modi.
As part of the damage control indulged in by Bharara and other officials formally and informally active in the campaign against Narendra Modi, a report was planted in an influential news portal that reports linking Bharara to the summons were false, "and that this was proved by his 19 October action in going to court to get the summons withdrawn".
Such reports ignored both the State Department role in Bharara's action as well as the US Attorney's close contact with the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), the Coalition Against Genocide (CAG), as well as the NGO which actually filed the complaint, the AJC. Key officials reiterate that Bharara and other midlevel US officials were active (albeit informally) in assisting those who filed the complaint against Narendra Modi, as reported in The Sunday Guardian two weeks ago, and point out that "the timeline of events clearly shows that the 19 October request for withdrawal of summons was an afterthought motivated by political considerations, so as to avoid the Indian-American community opposing Bharara's nomination to any higher office".
Officials in Washington and New York were, however, unanimous that President Barack Obama was sincere in his desire to establish a close working relationship with Prime Minister Modi, as also senior officials such as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry, "all of whom are on the same page as the President in seeking a close and cooperative relationship with an India led by Modi".
That Preet Bharara and unnamed other officials are now seeking to plant stories in sections of the media denying reports of their informal involvement in the episode of the issuance of the 25 September 2014 New York federal court summons to Prime Minister Modi, indicates that the Indian-American community has become a force in US politics, which cannot be ignored the way Bharara has thus far done in his career.