Lalit Modi row: Raje brazens it out, gives BJP the jitters

  • Kumar Uttam and Urvashi Dev Rawal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Jaipur
  • Updated: Jun 26, 2015 08:24 IST

Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday defended the BJP’s controversy-hit ministers, saying “nobody is tainted” despite growing unease about the political fallout of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje’s help to former IPL chief Lalit Modi.

Jaitley’s one-line defence soon after his arrival from the US defined the party’s position as an embattled Raje tapped into her supporters in Jaipur and her office issued statements denying reports that she has been asked to quit.

The 62-year-old enjoyed the confidence of BJP legislators but party leaders said her position was vulnerable after the emergence of documents that purportedly showed she signed off on the UK immigration application of Modi, who is wanted in India on charges of fraud and money laundering.

She has remained tightlipped throughout the crisis, breaking her silence only to deny supporting Modi.

Read: 'Lalitgate': PM Modi has to choose between politics and governance

But she apparently admitted to some party leaders about signing the former IPL chief’s immigration documents, which were leaked on Wednesday, prompting some to believe that she should have come clean days ago.

On Thursday morning, she made an appearance at the passing out parade of police sub-inspectors in Jaipur but avoided reporters. Instead, she tried to reach out to party leaders, clarifying her position to the top leadership.

“Her position in Rajasthan and in Delhi is not as strong as earlier when LK Advani was in the party and strongly backed her,” a BJP spokesperson said in Jaipur, alluding to the party veteran’s diminished role after Narendra Modi became prime minister.

But urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu said everything was “ok” in the government and the party. “Some people are unhappy because after this Prime Minister (Modi) came to power they are not allowed to enjoy what they used to earlier,” he said.

Party spokesperson Sambit Patra continued to question the authenticity of the document. “Did she testify before any court and before a judge? Has the UK government said anything? Even if we presume the documents to be true, we know that they (Raje and Lalit Modi) had family relations.”

Their remarks provoked a Congress taunt that the BJP was "continuing to defend the indefensible" despite incriminating evidence against her.

Murmurs of dissent have engulfed the BJP as it got sucked deeper into controversies, especially the raging row over foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Raje helping the IPL chief. To add to its woes, a Delhi court admitted a fake-degree case against Union HRD minister Smriti Irani and Maharashtra minister Pankaja Munde got entangled in an alleged R206-crore child benefit scandal.

The first major political storm to hit the NDA government has turned very serious as it threatened to dent its image, a senior BJP leader said. “We made a mistake in assessing how long this controversy will hold steam.”

The party continued to stick to the best option to ride out the storm for the time being — backing the beleaguered ministers, although the Congress’s cry for their removal was getting shriller.

Explaining the party's dilemma, a top BJP leader said showing the door to Raje wouldn’t “be an easy job” because she continued to enjoy the support of at least 100 of 163 BJP MLAs in Rajasthan.

“Raje will not step down easily and even if she does, the Congress will not give up its demand for the resignation of Sushma and Smriti. The Opposition will not let Parliament function when it opens for the monsoon session in July. Sacrificing Raje will not help redeem the situation.”

Read:Rumble in Rajasthan but Vasundhara Raje will have her say

Raje reaches out to party leaders for support

Jaitley on Lalit Modi row: 'Govt will play by rulebook'

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