New Delhi: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday made a passionate defence of her role in the Lalit Modi affair, but the Congress tore into her and blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the unending parliament logjam.
Detailing her role for the first time in parliament, the minister — whose resignation has been sought by the opposition — sought to give a humanitarian twist to the saga, saying she acted the way she did only because the former IPL chief’s wife faced a life threatening situation.
She insisted that she did not recommend to the British government to issue travel documents to Lalit Modi but wanted to help his wife, a cancer patient in Portugal.
In an emotional speech in the Lok Sabha that was devoid of most opposition members, she said the allegations that she recommended British travel documents for Lalit Modi were “wrong and baseless”.
“I have not helped Lalit Modi but his wife who is an Indian national, (who is) not involved in any crime. Is it a crime to help a woman like this? If it is a crime, I have committed it. I accept it. If the house wants to give punishment, I am ready.
“If it had been (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi in my place, what she would have done?” she asked, inviting cheers from the treasury benches.
“I never made a recommendation or request to the British government to give travel documents to him.”
The minister said she verbally conveyed to the British government that if “it chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, it will not spoil bilateral relationship between the two countries”.
In no time, the Congress accused her of impropriety and misuse of office besides a keenness “to help a person wanted by law agencies in India”. The party called her statement “hogwash”.
“Her statement (in parliament) exposes her,” Congress leader Anand Sharma told the media.
“Should a minister be clandestinely arranging or facilitating the issue of travel documents, the request for which was rejected earlier by British authorities?” he asked.
“There was no life threatening situation” to Lalit Modi’s wife, he said, adding that Lalit Modi, after getting the British travel document, went on a virtual global tour.
To back its statement, the Congress showed on a projector several file pictures of Modi enjoying himself in tourist havens and partying with male and female friends.
Sharma said it would have been understandable if Sushma Swaraj had ordered the issue of Indian travel documents to Lalit Modi as he was an Indian national.
“Why intervene voluntarily when the British government and their authorities have not asked the Indian government (whether to issue travel documents to Lalit Modi or not).
“And then to say ‘I have made no recommendation’, this is ridiculous.”
The Congress also targeted Prime Minister Modi, saying he “cannot brazen it out by remaining silent.
“Accountability cannot have dual standards. There cannot be a different rule book for the Modi government and his ministers.
“We in the opposition are duty bound to enforce accountability. It is the PM and his government who are purely responsible for the disruption in parliament.
“The PM is complicit by silence. He is endorsing acts of … arrogance and obduracy which has caused the logjam in parliament.”
Both houses of parliament have been virtually crippled since the monsoon session began on July 21, with the opposition demanding the resignation of Sushma Swaraj as well as the BJP chief ministers of Rajasthan (Vasundhara Raje) and Madhya Pradesh (Shivraj Singh Chouhan).
Raje is said to have close links with Lalit Modi while Chouhan is being blamed for the Vyapam recruitment scam that has led to around 40 deaths. The Bharatiya Janata Party and the government have said none of them will quit.
Sushma Swaraj said earlier that she had been waiting to respond to charges hurled at her during a debate. “If I do not get a chance to speak, it will be injustice.”