Defending herself Sushma ends up targeting Gandhis

Rajat Kain

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New Delhi: Congress President Sonia Gandhi during a protest in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Photo – PTI

Union External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj strongly defended herself in the Lalit Modi controversy for the second time on the floor of Lok Sabha on Wednesday. The lower house was discussing the issue after Congress party moved another adjournment motion against Sushma Swaraj where it reiterated the demand for her resignation. The house once again witnessed several rounds of protest with members of Congress party raising protest even as the Union minister made her statement.

“What I said was that if helping a woman who is a citizen of India, has cancer, is not a criminal with no case against her and going to Portugal for an operation…If helping her is a crime, I accept it,” said Sushma Swaraj.

The Union external affairs minister also spoke on the allegation of conflict of interest levelled by the Congress party.

“My husband was not a lawyer in Lalit Modi’s passport case…My daughter was a junior, in the ninth position…There were a total of 11 lawyers…My daughter appeared with a senior lawyer,” she added.

The discussion reached a flash-point with Sushma Swaraj taking on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who off late has been making allegations that Sushma Swaraj benefitted “financially” by helping out controversial Lalit Modi. In her first ever direct attack on the young leader, the veteran leader said, “ask Mumma (Sonia Gandhi), how much money did we get in the Quattrocchi incident?”.

“Rahul Gandhi says Sushma Swaraj acted in a clandestine manner… did a criminal act, helped an absconder… He (Lalit Modi) is not an absconder, no court has termed him that… If someone had done something clandestinely, it is their government which helped Ottavio Quattrocchi and Warren Anderson get away,” she said amid loud protest from the members of the principal opposition party.

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New Delhi: Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge speaks in the Lok Sabha during adjournment motion against Sushma Swaraj. Photo – PTI

Initiating the discussion on the adjournment motion, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, “On what basis did Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj help Lalit Modi, we want to know. Humanitarian law and humanitarian grounds not the same… Due process of law should have been followed”.

“To say that I helped Lalit Modi under humanitarian grounds is wrong… it points towards a deep relationship between you and him,” the leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha added.

Earlier in the day, BJP-led NDA government’s move to expedite the debate on Lalit Modi controversy in Lok Sabha ran into another resistance with Congress party seeking presence and participation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the discussion. Beginning the day, Union External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj proposed the Speaker for discussion on the contention that had led to persistent protest by the principal opposition party demanding her resignation.

“Let the adjournment motion be accepted and I am ready for discussion on adjournment motion and on every issue. If they want, none of the ruling members will speak during the discussion. I am ready for discussion but let there be order in the house,” Ms Swaraj said amid backing from the treasury.

But the Congress party, which once again moved adjournment motion against Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday morning, immediately demanded that Prime Minister Modi too be present and break his silence over the issue.

“We too are willing to discuss the matter but first the house shall suspend all business, even the question hour, and we want Prime Minister to be present and speak over the issue,” Leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said which drew reaction from the ruling benches as well.

But Speaker Sumitra Mahajan rejected the demands for suspending Question hour, leading to the resumption of protest by the Congress members.

The current monsoon session of the Parliament has witnessed protest both inside and outside the two houses with both the Opposition and government unrelenting on their stated positions. The session, crucial one for Modi government as it is seeking to pass key legislations, is heading for a complete wash out with just a day remaining.