Ex-Kingfisher airlines boss Vijay Mallya's claims that he met Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in 2016 before leaving India saw accusations and counter-accusations being traded by the Congress and the BJP on Thursday.
Jaitley's Facebook post on Wednesday to dismiss Mallya's claim as factually false was countered by the Congress.
Senior Congress leader PL Punia at a press conference claimed he witnessed the meeting between Jaitley and Mallya on March 1, 2016 at the Central Hall of Parliament.
"On March 3, we heard from the media that he (Mallya) fled the country on March 2. I have clearly stated about this in each of my interview with the media. There are CCTV cameras, we can all see that for proof. If I am wrong, I will resign from politics," he alleged, insisting that the meeting between the Finance Minister and Mallya went on for 15-20 minutes.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who was at the conference, minced no words. "Why did Jaitley allow Mallya to escape, or was it an order from the prime minister?" he asked.
"This is a clear-cut case of collusion. There is some deal between them. Finance Minister Jaitley must resign and this should be investigated," he demanded.
BJP hit back by asking the Congress chief to explain the UPA government’s decisions to clear loans to Kingfisher Airlines under its watch.
Senior BJP leader Sambit Patra alleged that "there are documents that show how the RBI and UPA under Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh had given sweet deals to Kingfisher Airlines."
"And it appears through these chain of documents that Kingfisher Airlines was owned not by Mallya but by the Gandhi family through proxy," Patra added, brandishing letters which he claimed were written by the Reserve Bank of India to the State Bank of India and had called for the restructuring of the loans of Kingfisher Airline.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had earlier made his contribution on twitter:
We have now two undeniable facts on the Mallya escape issue: 1. Look Out Notice was diluted on Oct 24, 2015 from “Block” to “Report” departure enabling Mallya to depart with 54 checked luggage items. 2. Mallya told FM in Central Hall of Parliament that he was leaving for London.— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) September 13, 2018
Union Ministers defend Jaitley
Railways and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal, who was handling the Finance Ministry for a brief while when Arun Jaitley was recovering, rushed to his senior colleague's defence saying Vijay Mallya was a fugitive businessman and a criminal and his words could not be taken seriously, the Press Trust of India reported.
At a press conference, Goyal said, “Rahul Gandhi should answer what were the relations between his family and Mallya."
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed the allegations "motivated" and asked if Congress also had the audio recording of the meeting.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also attacked Rahul Gandhi in a series of tweets wondering whether Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Vijay Mallya were "working in tandem".
"A deliberate accosting by Vijay Mallya in the corridors of Parliament and Arun Jaitley Ji rebuffing him to talk to the banks for repayment of loans in just half sentence is sought to be made an issue by the Congress Party. This comes after the visit of Rahul Gandhi to London. Are Vijay Mallya and Rahul Gandhi working in tandem? Is the Congress Party keen to save Vijay Mallya who benefitted from the bank facilities during UPA Government?" Prasad tweeted.
This on a day when #RahulMallyaLootedIndia and #ArunJaitleyStepDown were among the top trending keywords on twitter.