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Is There More To Modi's Seaplane Safari Than Meets The Eye?

Raman Swamy

More details are coming out about Narendra Modi’s controversial seaplane ride in Gujarat on Tuesday.  If the information being unearthed by investigative reporters turns out to be anywhere near accurate, it could provide ammunition to Opposition parties in the present surcharged political atmosphere to potentially further tarnish the image of the Prime Minister and his government.

Various newspapers and news portals, including The Hindu, National Herald, The Wire, Scroll.in, Altnews.in, have published certain interesting particulars on the basis of preliminary investigations and it is likely that even more details will come to light in the next few days and weeks.

Here are just a few pertinent points regarding the aircraft itself, its recent flight route, its actual owners, the private company which made it available for Modi’s election campaign and the company’s pending contracts with the government.

1. The seaplane flew to India from Karachi in Pakistan on December 3.  The flight log confirms it was on Pakistan soil before landing at Bombay’s Chatrapathi Shivaji International Airport at 7.45 pm that evening.  Over the next week, it flew to Juhu and back apparently on test runs.  On December 11, it took off from Juhu at 10.25 am and flew to Ahmadabad’s  Vallabhbhai Patel Airport, landing there after a 90 minute flight.

The questions being asked in both political and security circles are -  was the seaplane subjected to vigorous security checks after its arrival from Pakistan and before the Prime Minister was allowed to board it? 

This is of utmost relevance because of the Modi government’s deep suspicion of the hostile intentions of Pakistan, which is described as an enemy country as a matter of policy.  Modi had himself charged Dr. Manmohan Singh and several other distinguished Indian luminaries of treachery for having dined with two Pakistani dignitaries.

2. The pilot of the seaplane was a foreign nation, a Canadian.  He was prominently visible in the visuals telecast during Modi’s joyride on the seaplane on Tuesday.  Was the pilot and his co-pilot, also a foreign national, subjected to extreme vetting before being permitted to ferry the Prime Minister and be in such close proximity to Modi for so many hours?

3.  The ownership of the seaplane is shrouded in mystery.  It is registered in America.  Records indicate it is owned by a trust run on behalf of anonymous owners by a bank in Utah state of USA. 

4. The company which organised the seaplane spectacle of Narendra Modi on the last day of election campaigning in Gujarat, had signed a 2000 crore rupee contract with the Central government for “development of tourism”.

Not only that, the American company from which this aircraft was arranged clearly says that the owners of the aircraft do not want to reveal their names. This raises valid – and very serious – questions of conflict of interest.

5.  Although the Indian company, Iconic Ekta Ventures Limited, has inked the 2000 crore deal, the project is yet to obtain full clearance – the Environment Ministry has given the green signal till now.  Also, the Defence Minister is believed to be still looking into security aspects of the proposed tourism development project.

6.  The promoter and managing director of Icon Ekta, is Himanshu Patel.  He is quoted as telling National Herald’s Vishwadeep that his company has been working on the development of tourism, water sports and eco-adventure tourism in the hilly areas of Gujarat for the last four years.

According to him, the company signed an MoU with the Central government in in 2016, during the Atulya Bharat Programme.  Interestingly, however, the company itself was established only in September 2016.

7.  Also, the company’s authorised and paid up capital is only one lakh rupees. Yet it was able to sign a contract with the Modi government for of Rs. 2000 crore despite being a new and very tiny corporate start-up.

8. The contract itself is for the development of Dharoi Dam in Gujarat as a hub and centre for international tourism.  As per the business plans, tourists will be charged Rs. 2500 to take a seaplane flight from Ahmedabad to Dharoi.

Dharoi incidentally is the same Dam where Modi landed on Tuesday. The flight path and the decision to land at Dharoi were taken by the company.

9.   It is an open question whether the Prime Minister was in effect acting as an advertising model for the promotion of the company, which is a purely commercial enterprise.   The saturation television coverage to the Prime Minister of India traveling on the seaplane provided wide publicity beyond what any advertising agency could have managed.  Even top celebrity models like Priyanka Chopra, Virat Kohli or Amitabh Bachchan could not have ensured a better endorsement to any other private commercial venture. 

These and other points are already causing a storm of controversy in the social media.  A pertinent question being raised is whether the seaplane ride was planned prior to the cancellation of the road-shows by Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. 

One view is that the BJP had applied for Modi’s road show only two days before even though Rahul Gandhi’s road show in Ahmedabad had already been announced.  As a result both road shows was denied permission and the BJP was able to go ahead with the seaplane show.

Dec 14, 2017


Raman Swamy [email protected]

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