WASHINGTON: Finance Minister Arun Jaitley chose to largely stay mum on Lalit Modi, saying he did not "want to comment" on the controversy raging back home, with the opposition mounting massive protests over External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj's help to the tainted former IPL chief.
Responding to a question on why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is silent on the issue and whether Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje will resign following allegations of backing the former IPL chief's UK immigration plea secretly, Jaitley said he did not "want to comment on him (Lalit Modi)". However, in response to another question, Jaitley said that Modi's Rs 11 crore transaction with BJP leader and Raje's son Dushyant Singh was a "commercial" one.
"I do not want to comment on him, but it's a commercial transaction between two individuals," Jaitley said at a press conference here yesterday. The Minister was asked: "What is the government doing on the transaction of Rs 11 crore between Lalit Modi and Dushyant Singh?"
The reporter also asked Jaitley if Raje would resign and why Prime Minister Modi is silent on the issue, and will Dushyant be expelled from the party. Jaitley responded: "How the government could be concerned with a several year old loan transaction between... which is a commercial loan transaction by check with all banking approvals in a declared loan transaction." While Singh has been under attack over media reports that his company received Rs 11.63 crore in investments from Modi in 2008, his mother has faced flak for allegedly backing the immigration plea of the former IPL chief in a London court secretly.
The Raje episode came as a further embarrassment to the BJP and its government after it emerged that Swaraj helped Modi obtain British travel documents. Though Swaraj has maintained she acted on "humanitarian" grounds by signing consent papers for surgery of his wife suffering from cancer, the issue kicked up a storm with the opposition seeking her resignation over "impropriety" and conflict of interest.
Asked whether India should enact legislation to avoid the kind of conflict of interests, which triggered the current controversy, Jaitley said: "Parliament has some regulations on (conflict of interests) and they keep reviewing them from time to time." Queried further on whether he favoured stricter laws, Jaitley said: "This is not the time for me to comment." The controversy surrounding Lalit Modi is the BJP government's first major political crisis in more than a year since it assumed office.