Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told Parliament on Thursday she extended no favours to former IPL chief Lalit Modi and dared the Opposition to provide proof to counter her, but the Congress termed her emotionally-charged statement “hogwash” as it stepped up demands for her resignation.
The minister said in the Lok Sabha she made “no request or recommendation” to the UK government for giving travel documents to Modi who has made London his home since 2010 after being named by Indian agencies in corruption cases.
Swaraj said the controversial cricket tycoon’s wife was suffering from cancer and she wanted her husband to be by her side at a hospital in Portugal. The minister also read from doctors' testimonies to show that Modi’s wife was going through a particularly critical phase of her treatment.
“His wife has been suffering from cancer for the last 17 years and it is the 10th time it has recurred... I want to ask what Sonia Gandhi would have done had she been in my place. Would she have left her to die?" Swaraj said. “I challenge those attacking me to produce even one document, one chit or one e-mail to back their claims.”
The Opposition’s demands for the resignations of Swaraj and a few other top BJP leaders embroiled in controversies have led to a deadlock in Parliament with key reform measures like the goods and services tax (GST) bill in limbo and the monsoon session seemingly headed for a washout.
Speaking in front of empty Opposition benches with the Congress and some other parties boycotting Lok Sabha proceedings, the minister said she only told the British government that relations between the two countries would not be affected if they chose to provide travel documents to Lalit Modi.
"My oral message would only have had an impact once they decided in favour of or against issuing the travel documents. And that message which I sent was purely on humanitarian grounds,” she said, amid thumping of benches by ruling party lawmakers.
The minister’s remarks came a day after a Mumbai court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant (NBW) against Lalit Modi in connection with a case of money laundering following a plea by the Enforcement Directorate.
Opposition parties brushed aside Swaraj’s statement and asked her to face an inquiry to prove her innocence, while they also hit out at the Prime Minister for his silence on the issue.
“Today's statement of Sushma Swaraj is contradictory to her earlier stand. What we got today is an apology of a defence and hogwash, punctured with holes,” senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said. "If it was on humanitarian grounds then how was Lalit Modi travelling all over the world within 48 hours of his wife’s surgery... Should a minister be clandestinely arranging or facilitating the issue of travel documents, the request for which was rejected earlier by British authorities?”
Sticking to its demand for Swaraj's resignation and a high-level probe, the CPI(M) objected to the minister making a statement in "the absence of entire Opposition" in the Lok Sabha. Several parties have boycotted the lower House after the Speaker on Monday suspended 25 Congress lawmakers for five days over unruly behaviour.
“If at all what the minister has said is correct, then why is the Prime Minister hesitating to order an inquiry?” asked CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. “If what the union minister is saying is correct, then she should come back with honour. (But) let the inquiry prove it.”
(With agency inputs)