External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj attempted on Wednesday to ward off an opposition onslaught against her over the Lalit Modi controversy with piercing jibes at the Gandhi family that tore through a wall of protest from Congress lawmakers in the Lok Sabha.
Swaraj insisted she had not misused her office to help the former cricket magnate and, in a biting retort, pointed to the Bofors scandal of the 1980s in which former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and several other Congress politicians were implicated for allegedly receiving kickbacks.
“This is called quid pro quo,” she said, straining to be heard over clamorous Congress MPs while she took a dig at the party’s vice-president, Rahul Gandhi.
“During one of your (Rahul’s) long holidays, you should sit alone and go into the history of Congress governments. Come back and ask your mamma (Sonia Gandhi) how much money had been taken from (alleged Bofors conduit) Ottavio Quattrocchi and why daddy (Rajiv Gandhi) got released the killer of 15,000 people,” she said, in an apparent reference to Bhopal gas leak accused Warren Anderson, as she cited the late Congress leader Arjun Singh’s autobiography.
Rahul Gandhi, however, rejected her claims of innocence and reiterated his charge that the minister and her family had taken money from former IPL chief Lalit Modi, whom he called a “symbol of black money”.
Intervening in a discussion on an adjournment motion on the Lalit Modi issue moved by the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Rahul trained his guns at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his “silence” on the matter. The PM wasn’t present in the House during the debate.
“Today, he (the PM) does not have the guts to sit in the chair and answer our questions. He does not have the guts to face us,” he said, reminding Modi of his “na khaunga na khaane doonga” pre-election slogan about ending corruption. “(Mahatma) Gandhiji had three monkeys – don’t see evil, don’t hear evil and don’t speak evil. Modiji has new types of monkeys that preach don’t see the truth, don’t hear the truth and don’t speak the truth.”
Acrimonious exchanges between the opposition and treasury benches perpetuated throughout the debate that also saw Congress president Sonia Gandhi trooping into the well to protest allegations levelled against her by a BJP member over black money.
Rahul, who was not scheduled to participate in the debate, decided to take the floor to hit back at Swaraj.
“I respect Sushmaji a lot. Yesterday, she held my hand and asked why I was angry with her. I told her I was not angry. I looked into her eyes and told her that I was merely speaking the truth. She could not look me in the eyes,” Rahul said, amid the thumping of desks from Opposition benches and loud protests from the ruling side.
“I want to ask her two questions: how much money she and her family received from Lalit Modi who is the symbol of black money and why she helped him on the sly?” he said.
Ruling out Swaraj’s resignation, finance minister Arun Jaitley, who responded to the motion on behalf of the government, called her a scapegoat. Jaitley insisted the real reason for the disruptions was preventing legislation, particularly the constitutional amendment to roll out the goods and services tax.
The foreign minister denied her husband, lawyer Swaraj Kaushal, represented Lalit Modi in a case to get back his passport that was revoked by Indian authorities in 2010, while she also maintained that her daughter, Bansuri, received no money from the former IPL commissioner.
“She was a junior at ninth position in the appearance list (of lawyers). She appeared with her senior. Not a single rupee was taken by her,” she said.
Swaraj said there was no conflict of interest on her part and instead targeted Congress leader P Chidambaram and his wife."He was the finance minister when his wife, Nalini Chidambaram, was the lawyer in the Saradha chit fund scam case, whose file was with his ministry," she said, a charge that Congress sources denied.