NEW DELHI/JAIPUR/NAGPUR: The BJP’s central leadership has gone out on a limb to defend foreign minister Sushma Swaraj in the controversy over tainted former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s travel papers but has been curiously silent on Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje who allegedly agreed to be a secret witness for his UK immigration application.
Opposition calls for both Swaraj and Raje’s resignation have become louder as the scandal snowballed over the past three days, putting the BJP on the mat as it battles its first major political crisis since it stormed to power last year.
While most senior BJP leaders insist the party has no reason to disbelieve Raje, who has disputed the charge, they say the allegations against her are more serious than those faced by Swaraj. The foreign minister is accused of helping Modi get permission from UK authorities to travel to Portugal when his passport was revoked because of money laundering charges against him. Swaraj says she helped Modi on humanitarian grounds so he could visit his ailing wife in Portugal.
No senior BJP member at the central level came out in Raje’s defence on Wednesday, a sharp contrast from the past three days when top party leaders -- including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, BJP chief Amit Shah and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley -- threw their weight behind the foreign minister.
“Swaraj is a union minister, so central leaders of the party spoke in her defence. In Raje’s case, leaders of the Rajasthan unit of the BJP would be the right people to defend her. There is no need for central leaders to jump the gun,” a senior BJP functionary said, explaining the party’s silence on the issue.
Another party office bearer said Raje spoke to BJP chief Amit Shah on Tuesday night and explained her position to him. “Should we ask Raje to step down just because some fugitive has levelled unverified allegations against her?” he asked.
However, the Rajasthan unit of the BJP sprang to Raje’s defence, saying there was no truth in allegations that she was a secret witness for Modi. State BJP leaders said Raje may be on shaky ground, but was likely to weather the political storm.
“If the BJP and RSS are coming out in support of foreign affairs minister Sushma Swaraj over allegations that she helped Modi get travel documents from the British government, then they will have to support Raje too,” said a leader. “They cannot have double standards, one for Swaraj and one for Raje. If the party high command is defending Swaraj, they have to back Raje too.”
Party leaders supporting her argue that news channels reporting about Raje’s so-called affidavit in favour of Modi – released by the former cricket administrator’s lawyers – have said they cannot verify the document. “Raje herself has refuted having signed any such document. She is being unfairly targeted,” a party leader said.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) also came out in support of Swaraj, but maintained a studied silence on the controversy over Raje witnessing Modi’s immigration papers and media reports that the fallen IPL boss Modi transferred crores of rupees to Raje’s son Dushyant Singh’s company, routed through a fictitious company.
A senior RSS leader, who did not want to be identified, said Swaraj’s actions were not illegal and the opposition had raked up the issue as political vendetta. “She did nothing illegal or immoral. It may be improper, but cannot be termed a crime,” the leader said.