NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was on Sunday caught at the centre of a major controversy, as she defended her assistance to former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi to obtain travel documents from the UK on “humanitarian grounds” — with the Opposition baying for her resignation, even as the BJP solidly backed her.
The issue had come to a boil after the London-based The Sunday Times accused Keith Vaz, then chairman of House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, of conflict of interest in intervening in UK immigration affairs to get travel documents for Lalit Modi last year, as his Indian passport was confiscated.
In leaked emails to the DG of UK visas and immigration, Vaz apparently claimed that Sushma Swaraj had given the green light to Britain to provide these documents to Lalit who left India in 2010. Vaz has alleged that his email account was hacked.
In a series of tweets on Sunday morning, Swaraj said Lalit had spoken to her in July 2014 that his wife’s surgery for cancer was scheduled on August 4 in Portugal. “He told me that he had to be present in the hospital to sign the consent papers,” she said.
Swaraj said Lalit had told her that the UK government was prepared to give him travel documents, but were “restrained by a UPA government communication that this will spoil Indo-UK relations”.
“Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that British government should examine the request of Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi — that will not spoil our bilateral relations,” she tweeted.
When Vaz spoke to her, Swaraj said she told him “precisely what I told the British High Commissioner”.
“I genuinely believe that in a situation such as this, giving emergency travel documents to an Indian citizen cannot and should not spoil relations between the two countries,” she asserted.
Swaraj also noted that the Delhi High Court had later quashed the UPA government’s order impounding the passport of Lalit Modi on grounds that it was unconstitutional and violative of fundamental rights, following which he got his Indian passport back.