NEW DELHI: With the Congress unrelenting in its demand for the resignation of Sushma Swaraj for ‘helping’ Lalit Modi to secure travel documents, the External Affairs Minister made an impassioned defence of her move. She argued that she had merely helped the cancer-stricken wife of the former IPL chairman.
Sushma said she had not made any request or recommendation for giving travel documents to Lalit Modi. “I challenge anyone accusing me to produce a document, email, a letter or even a chit to prove that I had written (to the UK authorities) that travel documents be given to Lalit Modi,” Sushma said, while making a statement in the Lok Sabha.
Sushma was able to put across her point as the main Opposition parties, after the suspension of 25 Congress MPs, have been boycotting the session.
She, however, added that she was not taking advantage of the absence of the Opposition members or trying to pre-empt or scuttle the discussion on the issue, but was just putting across her viewpoint as she had been under attack for the last two months.
The minister said that the question put before her was whether she would tell the UK authorities that the relations with India would be affected if they gave documents to Lalit Modi on humanitarian grounds.
“I ask you (Speaker) what would you have done? I ask if Sonia (Gandhi)ji were in my place what would have she done? Would she have left her (Lalit Modi’s wife) to die? This is a case of humaneness where Lalit Modi has not been helped, but his wife, against whom there is no case, was helped.”
“She has been suffering from cancer for the last 17 years. Her cancer had re-occurred for the 10th time. She was going for treatment and she wanted her husband to be by her side. This was the reason I said that if the UK government gave him the travel documents, it won’t affect relations with India,” Sushma said.
“Is helping a woman this way a crime? If it is so, then I accept my crime standing here in front of the country. So, whatever punishment this House wants to give me I am ready,” she remarked.
Sushma quoted the witness statement given by Lalit Modi’s wife before the UK authorities and the hospital director who said her husband was required by her side.
Oppn Still Fuming
Sushma’s self-defence seemed not to have tempered the Opposition attack on her. Nor was the appeal persuasive enough to withdraw their demand for her resignation.
If young Congress MP Ranjeeta Ranjan said Sushma “should be helping out poor women, not a millionaire’s wife”, her party leader in the Lower House, Mallikarjun Kharge, said the statement, delivered in the absence of the Opposition, had “no meaning”. What followed from the Congress camp was even more scathing.
Party’s Deputy Leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma called the minister’s speech a “tear-jerker full of loopholes”.
He reiterated the Congress allegation of a “conflict of interest” against the minister, giving a timeline of the events leading to the disgraced former IPL boss getting his travel documents, mostly collated from the hacked emails of British MP Keith Vaz to Lisa Kilham, a senior UK Home Office official, and Sarah Rapson, Director of the UK Visas & Immigration Department.
“The basic question is, should a minister clandestinely arrange, facilitate or make requests for travel documents to a fugitive, which were rejected by the British government earlier?” Sharma further said.