Congress' multi-pronged attack on Swaraj, Raje

Lalit Modi
The Congress on Wednesday kept up its attack on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for allegedly helping Lalit Modi get travel documents, even as the controversy threatened to engulf leaders across party lines, with the businessman claiming he has had links with not only Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but also Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders.

The BJP and the Narendra Modi government continued to defend Swaraj and Raje. But with more skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard, including how Lalit Modi allegedly invested in a company that Raje’s son Dushyant was associated with and how she apparently was the secret witness in his application to the UK immigration authorities, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh  leaders are forced to assess the implications for the Sangh and Prime Minister Modi’s image for having thrown their weight behind Raje and Swaraj.
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The Sangh cadres have been asked to point out that Kashmiri separatist leader SAS Geelani recently and several others have been granted passports on humanitarian grounds in the past despite being under investigation. “Congress, which nursed Lalit Modi, has no moral ground to question the Modi government,” a mid-level RSS leader said. But the RSS, its defense of Swaraj on Sunday aside, has decided not to get mired in the political slugfest.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan, one of the first to come out in Swaraj’s support on Sunday, met the prime minister on Wednesday. Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said during the Cabinet briefing that Swaraj’s help to Lalit Modi was no impropriety but “a case of compassionate intervention for a humanitarian cause. That’s all.” But Prasad was more cautious in commenting about documents that purportedly suggest that Raje backed Lalit Modi’s immigration plea.

Lalit Modi said in a television interview to India Today news channel, telecast late Tuesday night, that the Rajasthan CM did support in writing his immigration plea to the UK authorities. He also said he had “family” relations with Swaraj, whose husband Swaraj Kaushal has been his lawyer for 20 years and their daughter, Bansuri, his advocate for four years. He said their services had been provided “free of cost”.

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A BJP source said that Raje is constant touch with top leaders, including party chief Amit Shah. "Yes, Raje and Lalit Modi's family have known each other for several years. But the veracity of the documents, which are unsigned, is questionable. A man under investigation on serious charges is making any and all kinds of allegations to save himself," a BJP leader said. He denied that the party top brass has been asked to be cautious in defending Raje. "The party and the government are solidly behind both our leaders," the leader said.

The Congress launched a multi-pronged attack on the BJP. Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram focused his attack on Swaraj, while Congress Rajasthan unit chief Sachin Pilot on Raje. Pilot said the state unit will launch an agitation in Rajasthan from 11 am tomorrow to demand that the CM quit. In Chennai, Chidambaram termed “laughable” allegations by Lalit Modi that the UPA government had unleashed a “political vendetta” against him. He asked the government to release letters he had written to then UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to reveal the UPA's stand.  The Congress also asked the PM to break his silence on the issue.

Meanwhile, sources in the the Ministry of External Affairs indicated that the ministry might appeal against the Delhi High Court order that cancelled the revoking of the passport of Lalit Modi in 2014. Source said the Ministry might appeal if the Enforcement Directorate were to furnish clinching evidence against the businessman. Lallit Modi's passport was revoked after he was investigated for money laundering and left for England in 2010. On Tuesday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said that any appeal against the order was under the purview of passport authorities.

In the television interview, Lalit Modi claimed his relationship with Raje goes back 30 years. He said that Raje accompanied his wife Minal to Portugal in 2012 and 2013. The former IPL commissioner said he had met Swaraj when she visited London for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2014. He said that he was also helped by NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and Congress leader Rajiv Shukla. In their defence, Shukla said he hasn’t spoken to Lalit Modi for three years while Pawar said he had tried to convince the businessman to return to India and face investigation.

Swaraj was combative on microblogging site Twitter when a user cast aspersions over her daughter’s educational qualifications. “My daughter is a barrister and Oxford graduate. What you say is absolutely false,” she tweeted. The twitter handle @pakaoed could not be accessed soon after, possibly discontinued by the user. BJP MP Kirti Azad, whose tweets have hinted at  the war within the BJP, was at it again. “Trivia, can you name the five politicians in 2009 who were members of the governing council of IPL, how many held position in government and opposition?” he tweeted today.

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