New Delhi: An unrelenting Congress on Monday demanded the sacking of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for helping former IPL chief Lalit Modi procure travel documents, and pointed out that she could not have acted without the "direct complicity and approval" of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
As the controversy swirled over Sushma Swaraj's role in helping Lalit Modi, who is charged with financial impropriety and has been living in London since 2010, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi demanded that Prime Minister Modi sack Sushma Swaraj for helping a person accused of money laundering. "Mr. Lalit Modi is a symbol of Black Money. Mr (Narendra) Modi is standing behind Mr (Lalit) Modi. Who's Sushma Swaraj ji? She means nothing in this Government," according to a tweet on Gandhi's official handle.
"It is not a question of Sushma ji resigning, PM Modiji should sack Sushma Swaraj ji from the Govt: Rahul Gandhi #ModiGate," said another tweet. The BJP on Monday fielded Prakash Javadekar to counter the Congress charges. He dismissed the allegations as "bankruptcy of Congress politics" and as "efforts to make a mountain out of a molehill". "We also want to ask: Let Congress answer where their leader (Rahul Gandhi) had gone on vacation and on what visa," he said.
Lalit Modi's lawyer on Monday termed the entire issue a "political jamboree" intended to "destabilise the government which is so far free of any scars or scams". Speaking in Mumbai, lawyer Mehmood M. Abdi said Sushma Swaraj lived up to her duty by helping an Indian in trouble, in this case Lalit Modi, to get travel documents to travel to Portugal on humanitarian grounds. He said a "non-issue is being blown out of proportion by the media".
In a detailed statement, All India Congress Committee (AICC) communications cell in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala said: "Incontrovertible facts, documents and details of 'Modi Gate Scandal' emerging since yesterday (Sunday) clearly reflect active complicity of not only the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj but also point towards BJP government aiding and abetting a fugitive of Indian law with tacit approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi."
Sushma Swaraj on Sunday admitted to helping Lalit Modi procure documents on "humanitarian grounds" to travel to Portugal for treatment of his cancer-striken wife in July last year. Surjewala said Lalit Modi, "who is squarely involved in a hawala, betting, match-fixing and money-laundering racket amounting to nearly Rs.700 crore", not only had "a direct association as also client-counsel relationship" with Sushma Swaraj's family but "also appears to have a long standing relationship with" Prime Minister Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah.
Taking potshots at Prime Minister Modi, who follows a pro-active diplomatic engagement, the Congress said: "For a prime minister who single-handedly runs the foreign ministry with the external affairs minister playing second fiddle, Narendra Modi's complicity in providing favours to a legally established offender and absconder - Lalit Modi - is nothing but open to negative interpretation." It wondered how Sushma Swaraj could have acted on her own "without direct complicity and approval of" Narendra Modi, especially a prime minister who "is known to keep tabs even over the dinners and attire worn by his ministers".
The Congress said that on May 26, 2014, the day the Modi government was sworn in, Indian-origin British MP Keith Vaz wrote to Sarah Rapson, Director of UK Visas and Immigration Department, asking for travel documents to be issued to Lalit Modi, living in London since 2010, for two reasons: A family wedding abroad; and accompanying his wife to undergo cancer treatment.
A few days later, Vaz followed up the case with Lisa Killham, a senior UK Home Office official, and cited two reasons for getting travel documents: The wedding of Lalit Modi's sister; and a meeting with the president of the Seychelles. The Congress said the important facts that stand out in the e-mail were "(a) Government of India has given a push in writing to the case of Lalit Modi, (b) Someone in government of India is working to find a solution, and (c) He wants to travel first to Malta and then to Portugal."
The Congress posed 11 questions to the government, including why Sushma Swaraj facilitated "fugitive" Lalit Modi's travel from one foreign country to another, instead of insisting on the conditionality that he has to return to India first and submit to Indian authorities. Surjewala also asked why Sushma Swaraj bypassed the Indian High Commission in Britain in the matter and directly approached the British authorities.
Highlighting a "clear-cut case of 'conflict of interest'," the Congress pointed out that Sushma Swaraj's daughter Bansuri Swaraj was appearing in passport cancellation matters of Lalit Modi before the court. "Is it not a fact that on grant of travel documents by the UK, accused Lalit Modi thanked husband and daughter of Sushma Swaraj? Is 'conflict of interest', thus, not writ large?" the party asked.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh said it was "high time Prime Minister Modi realises that Sushma ji cannot continue in this ministry nor any other ministry with serious charges against her". Sushma Swaraj, in a lone tweet on Monday, attacked a senior journalist from a TV news channel, saying: "Look who is preaching propriety..."