External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday got strong backing from her colleague, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who termed “baseless” all allegations against her in the Lalit Modi issue.
The BJP’s Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s name also cropped up in the billowing controversy. The Congress has demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe in the matter.
Appearing at a press conference, held ostensibly on the Jammu and Kashmir flood rehabilitation measures, Jaitley said to a query: “Let me clarify, all the allegations are baseless. The minister (Sushma Swaraj) and the party chief (Amit Shah) have given statements… she acted bona fide with good intentions. The whole government and party share the same view on this. There is no doubt on this.”
Jaitley’s statement came two days after the controversy broke out over Sushma Swaraj procuring travel documents for the former IPL chief who is charged with financial impropriety and who has been staying in Britain since 2010.
Jaitley’s defence came after three other BJP colleagues — Amit Shah, Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar — spoke in Sushma Swaraj’s support.
“Our ministers are capable of taking decisions, and all decisions taken by the government are the collective responsibility of the government,” Jaitley said.
There was speculation as to why Jaitley, who also holds the information and broadcasting portfolio, had not spoken out in favour of his colleague.
Social media has been rife with speculation that the leak to the media of the email exchanges between Sushma Swaraj, Lalit Modi and Indian-origin British MP Keith Vaz was the job of an “insider”, especially with Sushma Swaraj getting top rating for her good work as minister.
At the press conference, a poser by a journalist on what could be the meaning of “Aasteen ka saanp” (traitor), and who it could be, was brushed aside, with “next question”.
BJP MP and former cricketer Kirti Azad referred to it in a tweet, and since then the hashtag #AsteenKaSaanp has been trending on Twitter.
The name of Vasundhara Raje on Tuesday cropped up in the controversy, adding a new twist, with allegations that she testified in favour of Modi’s British immigration application in 2011.
The revelation apparently was made in a document released by Lalit Modi’s legal team where it is mentioned that Raje, who was then leader of opposition in the Rajasthan assembly, said she was in favour of Modi’s immigration application on the strict clause that her name will not be revealed to the Indian authorities. The authenticity of the document has not been proved.
Raje, in a press note issued by her media advisor, later said: “I know the family of Lalit Modi. But I am not aware which document people are talking about.”
Rajasthan BJP spokesperson Kailash Nath Bhat questioned the authenticity of the document, saying there were no signatures of Raje and also that she has not been in touch with Modi for the last four-five years.
Sushma Swaraj has admitted she helped Modi procure documents to travel to Portugal last year for treatment of his cancer-stricken wife on “humanitarian grounds”.
The episode has caused huge embarrassment to the government as Lalit Modi is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate for alleged financial bungling in the money-spinning IPL.
He has been living in London since 2010 after the ED issued a blue corner notice against him for probe in the matter.
The Congress, which has been demanding Sushma Swaraj’s resignation, kept up its pressure on the government, and demanded a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the matter.
The party also wondered at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the matter.
“Why is the prime minister silent? The PM has to speak about this nexus… there are many questions which have been thrown up. We demand a through investigation into this affair,” Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma told reporters.
“They should respect the (probity) parameters they had set for the UPA ministers,” he said.
He said the Lalit Modi controversy needed to be probed. “He knows some people and they are protecting him,” he said.
Sharma said it was not correct for the Narendra Modi government to facilitate travel documents for somebody who is wanted by law in India.
He said it was not only the external affairs minister, but also others who were responsible for shielding the former IPL chief.
Earlier, in his press conference, Jaitley to questions on the Enforcement Directorate notice to Lalit Modi said the former IPL chief has been issued show cause notice in 15 out of the 16 cases and “in one case the investigation is still pending”.
He said a blue corner notice served against Modi by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence at the request of the ED in 2010, “continues to be valid”.
The National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) on Tuesday protested outside Sushma Swaraj’s residence, calling for a probe and demanding that she resign.
The Shiv Sena said Sushma Swaraj was being targeted under a “political game” to oust her from the BJP and that it was imperative for Prime Minister Modi to step in and order an investigation to know who was so keen on “maligning” her “clean” reputation.