Finance minister Arun Jaitley dismissed allegations against Sushma Swaraj as baseless on Tuesday, attempting to stave off a pitched Opposition campaign for the foreign minister’s resignation over helping former IPL boss Lalit Modi get foreign travel documents.
Two days after a London newspaper revealed the 63-year-old foreign minister asked British authorities to examine a travel request by the corruption-tainted Modi whose passport was revoked over money-laundering charges, Jaitley said Swaraj’s decisions were “bonafide” and she “acted in good faith”.
"The entire government and party are one on the matter and there should be no room for any doubt. All allegations are baseless,” Jaitley told a press conference with home minister Rajnath Singh by his side. Agencies reported he spent an hour in a huddle with Swaraj and Singh before the conference.
“The minister is capable of taking decisions on her own. When she needs to seek government approval she will do that,” he said, responding to a question on why Swaraj did not consult other ministries before taking such a decision.
Jaitley joined a string of senior BJP leaders to rally behind Swaraj after party president Amit Shah and Singh amid swirling rumours of factionalism fuelled by tweets from Darbhanga MP Kirti Azad on Monday, who alleged internal conspiracy against the foreign minister.
Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar said the controversy had ended after the external affairs minister offered a clarification.
Swaraj, an MP from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, said she helped Lalit Modi, who is charged with financial impropriety, on humanitarian grounds because he had to be in Portugal for his wife’s cancer operation. The minister’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal, has reportedly been Modi’s lawyer for 22 years.
Referring to pictures being dug up by Congress showing Modi with BJP leaders, Javadekar said those were old photographs dating back to 2010.
"That time Lalit Modi was IPL chairman. There was no accusation against him, he was not charged. PM Narendra Modi was Gujarat chief minister and also the chairman of Gujarat Cricket Association. Amit Shah was vice-chairman of the cricket association. So, Congress has lost the plot," Javadekar said in Chennai.
He added that there were also pictures of Congress leaders with Lalit Modi and that opposition parties were silent about that.
But the Congress wasn’t convinced, demanding a Supreme Court-monitored special investigation team to look into the accusations.
"Lalit Modi is personally known to the highest in the BJP. The ruling party is involved; those in the government cannot be trusted,” party spokesperson Anand Sharma said as hundreds of Congress workers protested outside the BJP headquarters in Delhi.
Sharma demanded a probe by a special investigation team monitored by the Supreme Court into allegations of nexus between BJP leaders and the scam-tainted former IPL boss.
He also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi's silence on the matter, saying there cannot be two sets of rules on probity.
Sharma's colleague and Congress general secretary, Digvijaya Singh, too questioned the government's silence over Modi.
"I want to ask the Prime Minister, I want to ask finance minister, why are they keeping quiet? We would like to know whether Lalit Modi is evading tax? Why is he not coming to India? Is there a blue or red corner notice against him? Is he an absconder? Is he a fugitive? We want to know," Singh said.
The finance minister rejected charges of favouritism towards Lalit Modi, saying the Enforcement Directorate was investigating charges against the fallen cricket czar. “Show-cause notices have been issued to Lalit Modi in 15 out of 16 cases and one was still under investigation,” Jaitley said.
The finance minister also confirmed a “light-blue“ cornered notice against Lalit Modi by the directorate of revenue intelligence in 2010, clearing the air after the disgraced cricket boss’ lawyer said on Tuesday no Interpol blue corner notice existed. The blue corner notice is the second-most serious document issued by the international organisation as a request for cooperation or alerts allowing police to share critical crime-related information.
The accusation is the first major political scandal to hit the NDA, which rode to power last year on the promise of a clean administration but the government’s response suggested it was in no mood to cede ground to the Opposition.
The former IPL commissioner took refuge in London for over five years after the ED slapped money laundering and other charges against him involving an amount of Rs. 1,700 crore.