New Delhi: The ruling BJP on Wednesday attacked the Congress in the Lok Sabha for the “wrong steps” taken to bring back former IPL chief Lalit Modi and rejected the opposition party’s allegations against External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Sushma Swaraj countered the allegations concerning her family and denied that her husband Swaraj Kaushal was a lawyer for Lalit Modi in his passport case.
She said her daughter Bansuri was a “junior at ninth number in the appearance list (in the passport case)” and “not a single rupee was taken by her”.
She sought to tear into the Congress, telling Rahul Gandhi to ask his “mamma (Sonia Gandhi)” how much “money had been taken from (Ottavio) Quattrocchi” and why did “daddy (Rajiv Gandhi)” allow release of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson after the Bhopal gas leak case in 1984.
The acrimonious debate in the Lok Sabha saw Rahul Gandhi accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of lacking guts to face the house over the charges against his minister.
Sparks flew in the house as the five-hour debate was marked by interruptions, sharp and sometimes personal attacks and counter-offensives.
The Congress staged a walkout as soon as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley began his reply to the debate as it wanted the prime minister to do so.
The debate in the form of an adjournment motion moved by Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge took place at the fag end of the monsoon session which has been virtually washed out over the Congress demand for the resignation of Sushma Swaraj for her alleged help to Lalit Modi, who is facing an Enforcement Directorate investigation.
In his spirited reply to the debate after a strong attack by the Congress, Jaitley said steps taken by the United Progressive Alliance government to bring back Lalit Modi from abroad “could never succeed”.
He said Lalit Modi was largely being probed by the UPA under the Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA), which had far softer provisions compared to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Jaitley said an FIR was registered against Lalit Modi under the PMLA in 2012 but the case did not take off and the the former Indian Premier League chief became liable for arrest only after concrete steps were taken by the Narendra Modi government.
“He became liable for arrest for the first time in August 2015,” Jaitley said.
The minster said Sushma Swaraj had spoken to the British government at a time when Lalit Modi was not facing a criminal case or had arrest warrants pending but only FEMA proceedings.
He accused the Congress of making a “mountain out of a molehill”.
“The government entirely rejects the allegations. The question of Sushma ji’s resignation does not arise… My entire sympathy is with Sushma ji. It (demand for her resignation) was only a pretext,” he said.
Jaitley accused the Congress of having run “a failed government, a corrupt government”.
“You want to sabotage the Indian growth story, go back on the Goods and Services Tax bill,” the finance minister said.
Jaitley also attacked Rahul Gandhi over his jibes at the prime minister and Sushma Swaraj.
“The problem with Rahul Gandhi is that he is an expert without knowledge,” Jaitley said.
Earlier, Rahul Gandhi launched a strong attack on Narendra Modi.
“(Narendra) Modi had promised the nation that Rs.15 lakh black money would go into every bank account. He had also promised that he will not allow corruption. He has failed in both,” he said, adding that Lalit Modi was the symbol of black money.
“They (the treasury benches) are trying to silence me. The Congress will not keep quiet, we will keep protesting,” Rahul Gandhi said.
He asked how much money Sushma Swaraj’s family got from Lalit Modi and why did she help him in a “humanitarian” way in a hidden manner.
In her searing attack, Sushma Swaraj, who spoke amid constant sloganeering by Congress members, said she had not helped Lalit Modi but his ailing wife who was to undergo a medical procedure for cancer treatment in Portugal.
Denying any quid pro quo on the Lalit Modi issue, she said the Congress vice president should reflect on his family’s history.
“Rahul should ask, why they did the quid pro quo” about Quattrocchi and Anderson.
She claimed Rajiv Gandhi struck a deal with the US government for the release of his “childhood friend Adil Shahryar” who was awarded a 35-year jail in a prison there.
The minister said the British government conveyed that Lalit Modi was given travel documents according to appropriate rules.
She said when P. Chidambaram was the finance minister in the UPA government, his wife Nalini Chidambaram was appointed a lawyer by the income tax department.