Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has reportedly admitted to BJP leaders that she signed an affidavit backing controversial former IPL chief Lalit Modi’s British immigration appeal, adding to unease within the party despite finance minister Arun Jaitley’s defence of controversy-hit leaders.
Raje apparently admitted to some BJP leaders she had signed the document, which was leaked on Wednesday, prompting some to believe she should have come clean days ago.
The BJP’s top leaders examined the seven-page document and are in touch with Raje, a powerful regional leader, NDTV quoted its sources as saying.
On June 16, Raje had denied any knowledge of the document after Modi, now living in London, produced it during a television interview and said Raje had sought a legal guarantee of confidentiality for signing the affidavit.
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Jaitley defended the BJP’s controversy-hit leaders on Thursday, saying “nobody is tainted” despite mounting unease about the political fallout of Raje’s help to Modi, who is wanted in India on charges of fraud and money laundering.
His one-line defence soon after his return from the US defined the BJP’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.
"Some electronic channels are constantly running reports far away from the truth. These reports are completely baseless and are unsubstantiated. Verify reports before running them. Do not run stories which are unsubstantiated or based on rumours which may tarnish image of the chief minister," said a statement issued Raje's press advisor.
A second statement later said some TV channels were carrying "misleading reports" about 110 legislators coming out in support of Raje.
The statement quoted some media reports that said "Vasundhara resignation sought, Vasundhara bluntly refuses to resign", "Party will be in a mess or problems if I am asked to quit", "Ministers and MLAs are gathering at CM house", and "Chief minister going to Delhi and (Health Minister) Rajendra Rathore going to Delhi".
Raje, 62, enjoys the confidence of BJP legislators but party leaders said her position is vulnerable after the emergence of the affidavit in support of Modi.
She has been tightlipped throughout the crisis, breaking her silence only to deny supporting Modi. On Thursday morning, Raje made an appearance at the passing out parade of police sub-inspectors in Jaipur but avoided reporters.
Instead, she tried to reach out to BJP 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 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.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra questioned the authenticity of the affidavit. “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 Raje.
The Congress also released the signed copy of the affidavit in which Raje told British officials that India's expansive investigation of Modi was "a full frontal attack" that was "politically motivated."
The CPI-M demanded the immediate resignation of Raje, saying her conduct vis-a-vis Modi marked "a new low from a political leader and a national affront".
"The emergence of a witness statement signed by Vasundhara Raje in support of Lalit Modi's immigration application to the UK has conclusively established the wrongdoing indulged in by the chief minister," the CPI-M said in a statement.
The CPI(M) also sought the resignation of external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for her own links with Lalit Modi.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj too is under a cloud for backing Modi’s request for British travel documents. Swaraj, whose husband and daughter have worked as lawyers for Modi, said she had acted solely on humanitarian grounds so that Modi could travel to Portugal to be with his ailing wife.
(With agency inputs)