External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday was at the centre of a row after admitting to having helped former IPL chief Lalit Modi procure documents to travel to Portugal last July on “humanitarian grounds” with the Congress demanding her resignation for “gross impropriety”.
Sushma Swaraj, in a series of 14 tweets, said she helped Lalit Modi, who has been staying in London since 2010 following allegations of financial impropriety, after he approached her last July, saying his wife was suffering from cancer and was to undergo surgery in Portugal.
Sushma Swaraj, however, denied having sought any favour for her nephew Jyotirmay Kaushal with regard to his admission in a law course at Sussex University.
“What benefit did I pass on to Lalit Modi – that he could sign consent papers for surgery of his wife suffering from cancer? He was in London. After his wife’s surgery, he came back to London. What is it that I changed?” she said in angry tweets.
Sushma Swaraj is reported to have spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the matter, even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh came out in support of the senior minister.
While the Congress demanded the minister’s resignation for “gross impropriety” for having helped Lalit Modi, against whom the Enforcement Directorate has filed charges, many BJP leaders, as well as Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav, came out in her support.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted his support: “Sushma Swaraj Ji’s life is an epitome of transparency and probity in public service. Any attempt to misconstrue humanitarian action will fail.”
Ram Gopal Yadav said: “Sushma Swaraj has done nothing wrong, it’s unfortunate that people have hyped this matter.”
The incident was triggered after Britain’s Sunday Times reported an email exchange between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson, citing Sushma Swaraj, to facilitate travel documents for Lalit Modi.
The Sunday Times in its report said: “Leaked correspondence reveals how Vaz cited Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, to the Home Office in an effort to expedite the case of Lalit Modi, a mutual acquaintance.”
“… Lalit Modi spoke to me that his wife was suffering from cancer and her surgery was fixed for 4th Aug in Portugal. He told me that he had to be present in the Hospital to sign the consent papers,” Sushma Swaraj tweeted.
“He informed me that he had applied for travel documents in London and UK government was prepared to give him the travel documents. However, they were restrained by a UPA Government communication that this will spoil Indo-UK relations,” she added.
“Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that British Government should examine the request of Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British Government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi – that will not spoil our bilateral relations,” said the minister.
“Keith Vaz also spoke to me and I told him precisely what I told the British High Commissioner,” she said.
Sushma Swaraj said: “I genuinely believe that in a situation such as this, giving emergency travel documents to an Indian citizen cannot and should not spoil relations between the two countries.”
She said that a few days after that, the Delhi High Court quashed an order by the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to impound Lalit Modi’s passport.
“I may also state that only a few days later, Delhi High Court quashed UPA Government’s order impounding Lalit Modi’s passport on the ground that the said order was unconstitutional being violative of fundamental rights and he got his passport back,” she said.
The Enforcement Directorate has initiated proceedings against Lalit Modi and in March 2010, the Regional Passport Office in Mumbai had revoked his passport.
With regard to her nephew’s admission, she said: “Regarding Jyotirmay Kaushal’s admission in a law course at Sussex University, he secured admission through the normal admission process in 2013 – one year before I became a Minister.”
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh demanded Sushma Swaraj’s resignation “on moral grounds”.
“The minister backed a person like Lalit Modi, against whom a lookout notice was there. All this is very serious. The external affairs minister is supporting a person who is on the run,” he said.
Digvijaya Singh also demanded a clarification from Prime Minister Modi on the issue.
Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said the incident exposed “a clear nexus between a money launderer and match-fixer” — referring to Lalit Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
“I want to ask the prime minister, home minister and (BJP president) Amit Shah, if tomorrow Dawood wants help on humanitarian grounds, will they help,” he wondered.
He demanded her resignation on moral grounds and asked for an explanation from the government in the matter.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said the issue would be raised in parliament when it meets next.
“We want this matter probed. We will raise it in parliament,” Mayawati said.