External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made her first public appearance on Tuesday morning after the outbreak of Lalit Modi controversy. Flagging off Kailash Mansarovar Yatra from New Delhi’s Jawahar Bhawan, Ms. Swaraj addressed a group of pilgrims wishing them well being for the trip. However, she didn’t speak anything over the controversy which has snowballed into a major political storm.
The controversy had erupted over Ms. Swaraj, in her capacity as the Union External Affairs minister, helping out former Indian Premier League (IPL) boss Lalit Modi with travel papers in UK while his passport was still held by the Indian authorities. Lalit Modi is facing probe by the Enforcement Directorate on the charges of alleged corruption in the popular cricket series IPL.
While the ruling BJP and NDA government has been defending Sushma Swaraj, opposition Congress party is adamant on its demand seeking her resignation. The principal opposition party had once again targeted the Prime Minister over entire controversy.
“Why Prime Minister Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley are quiet in Sushma Swaraj case? They are two people who should clarify what is the legal position…whether Lalit Modi is a fugitive absconder or not. Whether he has been issued Red/Blue Corner Notice?” senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said on Tuesday morning.
On Monday evening, the Congress party had upped its ante against the EAM Ms. Swaraj. Taking an aggressive stand, Congress party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi had demanded that Sushma Swaraj be sacked from the cabinet.
“Mr. Modi should sack Sushmaji. Mr. Modi is standing behind Mr. Modi, who is Sushma Swaraj?” alleged the Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi.
But the BJP was quick to reject allegations and ruled out Ms. Swaraj’s resignation.
“Congress is attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill and raking up non-issues,” said Union minister and BJP leader Prakash Javadekar.
The entire controversy had come to the light early on Sunday morning after the local press of Britain reported about Indian-origin British MP Keith Vaz having allegedly used Sushma Swaraj’s name to get Lalit Modi’s travel papers from the UK immigration authority. He had last year sought ‘help’ to get his travel documents arranged to attend his wife’s surgery in Lisbon, Portugal. Under the Enforcement Directorate lens since 2010, Lalit Modi is ‘wanted’ in India and has been living in London. His passport was revoked by Indian authorities, a decision also upheld by the Delhi High Court in 2013, but it was restored in August 2014 by another order passed by the Delhi High Court.
Sushma Swaraj is also battling the charges of ‘conflict of interest’ as her husband Mr. Swaraj Kaushal had been Lalit Modi’s lawyer for the last 22 years. Also, her daughter Ms. Bansuri has been his lawyer since 7 years. Ms. Bansuri was also among the team of lawyers representing Lalit Modi before the Delhi High Court.
Sushma Swaraj, on her part had defended her move to ‘help’ out Lalit Modi on ‘humanitarian’ grounds.
“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,” Sushma had written on a micro-blogging site Twitter on Sunday.
But that hasn’t been able to cut much ice with the opposition parties, in particularly the Congress party, demanding her resignation. The Congress party workers and cadres had even staged a protest outside her official residence in New Delhi on Monday afternoon.
“Shri P Chidambaram requested the UK authorities to take action against Lalit Modi, but EAM Swaraj overruled it…Not only did Sushma Swaraj had client counsel relationship with Lalit Modi, but PM Modi also had close association with Lalit Modi,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala claimed as he launched a fresh round of allegations against the PM Modi and Ms. Swaraj.
“The PM and the BJP have been talking about accountability but when it comes to brass tacks, the Prime Minister is absolutely quiet… if a person faces criminal charges, can relief be considered on humanitarian grounds?” Sitaram Yechury, CPI (M) General Secretary said while targeting the PM.
“The decision could not have been taken without the knowledge of the PMO,” Aam Aadmi Party claimed in its presser.
On his part, the man in centre of the row, Lalit Modi too broke his silence through a series of tweets targeting the previous UPA government while his lawyer separately held a presser in Mumbai.
“Why should she save him and for what? She had done it for human considerations. It is a very small thing but why is it being blown out of proportion?” his lawyer Mahmood Abdi had claimed.