In a veiled message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the controversy involving Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje, BJP patriarch LK Advani has called for maintaining probity in public life while recalling how he quit after his name cropped up in the hawala scam.
Advani’s remarks provided fresh ammunition to the opposition Congress, which has been pushing for the resignation of external affairs minister Swaraj and Rajasthan chief minister Raje over their efforts to help disgraced former IPL chief Lalit Modi.
"Protecting the people’s trust is the biggest responsibility in a political leader’s life. What morality demands, that is 'rajdharma'," Advani was quoted as saying by the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika.
However, Advani also said he did not want to comment on the controversy involving Swaraj and Raje. "I am far away from all this...So I don't have anything to comment. I am not involved in decision-making and so I have no comments to offer in the matter," he said.
Referring to former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who resigned after facing graft charges, he said: "Since the Jan Sangh era...even before that in RSS shakhas, we were taught honesty is the best virtue. There should be no compromise on corruption."
Swaraj and Raje are embroiled in a controversy over extending help to Lalit Modi in connection with his travel documents and an immigration appeal in Britain, triggering demands by the Congress for their resignation. The BJP has stood by them and said there is no need for them to quit.
Reacting to Advani's remarks, Congress leader Rashid Alvi said he was showing the way to the BJP and the Prime Minister that those who are "tainted" should be made to resign, irrespective of whether it is Raje or Swaraj or anyone else.
Advani pointed out that he quit as an MP on his own in 1996 after he was linked to the hawala scam.
“The day allegations were raised against me based on Jain diaries, that evening itself, sitting in my house in Pandara Road, I took the decision to resign (as an MP). It was no one else's decision, it was mine. Soon after, I called up (Atal Bihari) Vajapyee to inform him about my decision. He asked me not to resign but I did not listen to anyone," the former deputy prime minister was quoted as saying by the online edition of the daily.
"People vote for us in elections. So commitment to the people is most important."
Asked whether resignations should be the norm when politicians face serious charges, Advani said: "I can tell about myself. What others will do, what's their issues, what their problems are, I don't know. And I don't want to comment on these."
Advani was later re-elected in 1998 after his name was cleared in the hawala scam. Entries found in the diaries of hawala broker SK Jain were presented as crucial evidence against top politicians, including Advani, in court by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The hawala scam involved payments allegedly received by politicians through four brokers. The scandal implicated several leading politicians.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, made major changes in its organisational structure last year. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were dropped from its parliamentary board, considered the highest decision-making body while leaders over the age of 75 were denied places in the council of ministers.
Modi's rise in the BJP and his magnetism is said to have grated with some of the party's old guard.