BJP to find it difficult to defend Sushma if Congress continues to attack PM

Despite their initial defence of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will find it tough to shield her if the embers from the controversy threaten reach the Prime Minister. Neither the Sangh nor the BJP is keen to endlessly take the heat for Swaraj and her husband Kaushal's dealings with former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi, a fugitive from Indian law.

Insiders believe Swaraj's continuing in the council of ministers was likely to become increasingly untenable. It isn't a secret that Swaraj doesn't get along with some senior BJP leaders. However, her defence that this was an inside job is likely to pale into insignificance if the Opposition, particularly the Congress, continues to attack Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Sunday, the Congress said one Modi (the PM), helped another (Lalit Modi).

Some insiders believe the only question is whether Swaraj will survive in the council of ministers until the monsoon session of Parliament. The month-long session, to start in mid to late July, will be crucial for the Modi government as it has plans to push through its reformist agenda during the proceedings, while the Opposition could disrupt the two Houses on this question.

Sunday's defence of Swaraj by Home Minister Rajnath Singh and BJP chief Amit Shah, although quick but somewhat half-hearted, was driven by a sentiment that a senior minister, who has for long years been the party's woman face and its Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha from 2009 to 2014, shouldn't be left to fend for herself in the immediate aftermath of the crisis. But this determination is likely to be short-lived in the face of a sustained attack by the Congress. While RSS leader Indresh Kumar, who like Swaraj is also from Haryana, jumped to her defence on Sunday, the Sangh isn't likely to be as robust in standing by her side in the coming days. There is a strong sentiment that what Swaraj did smacks of impropriety, particularly with more details trickling in of how Lalit Modi travelled not only to his ailing wife's bedside but half the world, after his travel documents came through thanks to intervention of her and British Labour MP Keith Vaz.

Then there are damning email exchanges between her husband Swaraj Kaushal and Lalit Modi. Kaushal requested Lalit, who in turn asked Vaz to help with his nephew Jyotirmay Kaushal's admission in a law course in Sussex. Jyotirmay is the son of Kaushal's younger brother Pradeep, a special correspondent with The Indian Express . These emails date to mid-2013 when Swaraj was the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Questions will be asked why the Leader of Opposition, or her husband, should ask for favours from a man whom the Indian law declared an absconder and also issues a look out notice via Interpol. In 2011, Sushma Swaraj, then the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, disowned the Reddy brothers of Bellary when they came under the scanner of the Karnataka Lokayukta for their illegal mining activity. Swaraj survived the controversy, even blaming Arun Jaitley for having been instrumental in getting the Reddy brothers in the Karnataka Cabinet.

But unlike the last time, Swaraj's mentor L K Advani is no longer the unquestioned leader of the BJP. The mantle has been passed on to Prime Minister Modi. In mid-2013, Swaraj was one of those in the Advani camp who had questioned the party and Sangh's intent to announce Modi the PM candidate.