NEW DELHI -- A day after Rahul Gandhi described External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj as a "criminal" for her involvement in the Lalit Modi scandal, the central government hit back by threatening to file a defamation suit if the Congress Party vice president doesn't apologise.
Describing Gandhi's words as "unfortunate and undemocratic," Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said, "I am demanding that Rahul Gandhi make an apology to the country because he is not only defaming Sushma Swaraj, he is defaming the foreign ministry of the country."
Gadkari said that Swaraj had not violated any law or the constitution, and she was not embroiled in any corruption or illegal activity.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu criticised Gandhi's remarks as "immature."
On Wednesday, Gandhi described Swaraj as a "criminal," who had helped fugitive Lalit Modi to procure travel documents from the British authorities, last year, while he was being investigated by the Indian government for financial irregularities and money laundering in connection with the IPL cricket tournament.
"Sushma ji has done a criminal act. She is a minister of the government and the whole country knows she has done a criminal act," Gandhi told the media. "If you do a criminal act, you go to jail."
Defending Gandhi, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said that criticising the government is not defamation. "And if this is defamation, then what the BJP has said over the past 10 years, every MP can be slapped with a hundred cases," he said.
Since Tuesday, the Congress Party has blocked parliamentary proceedings while demanding the resignations of Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, who is also embroiled in the Lalit Modi scandal, and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the Vyapam scam.
Swaraj has admitted to helping Lalit Modi on "humanitarian grounds" so that he could visit his wife while she was undergoing treatment for cancer in Lisbon, but the foreign minister bypassed established procedures to handles requests from fugitives. The cricket-magnate has also said that Swaraj's husband and daughter have provided him free legal services for several years, and he has "close" relations with their family.
Meanwhile, Raje backed Lalit Modi's immigration application in 2011, when she was Leader of the Opposition, on the condition that her support would be hidden from the Indian government.
Vyapam is a massive scam which involves politicians and government officials allowing impostors to take exams for government jobs in Madhya Pradesh, and manipulating exam results, in exchange of vast sums of money. Several people connected with scam have died in mysterious circumstances since 2010.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party has offered a discussion on these controversies, the Opposition has demanded resignations before entering into any debate. Today, BJP leaders sat on dharna near the Mahatma Gandhi statue near the parliament building to protest against the disruptions over the past four days.
BJP MPs protest against Congress CMs at Gandhi statue in parliament pic.twitter.com/syt6dJ0FrI— ANI (@ANI_news) July 24, 2015
Political rivals made jibes over the Modi government resorting to protests. Aam Aadmi Party's Kumar Vishwas quipped that perhaps they were appealing to U.S. President Barack Obama.
सरकार खुद संसद के बाहर धरने पर बैठ गई हैं.मांग शायद ओबामा से है.😜— Dr Kumar Vishvas (@DrKumarVishwas) July 24, 2015
But the Opposition remains unmoved. "There should be action, action means resignation and then discussion," Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said on Friday.
Jab tak resignation nhi hoga, tab tak saansad mein discussion nhi hoga: Rahul Gandhi pic.twitter.com/Gd5l6BzXyl— ANI (@ANI_news) July 24, 2015
40 ppl hv died in #VyapamScam, R'than CM is deeply involved with a fugitive, Cabinet Minister is writing notes to help a fugitive: R Gandhi— ANI (@ANI_news) July 24, 2015
The BJP has also retaliated by highlighting corruption cases involving Congress leaders. This week, they accused the Uttarkhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat of a liquor scam during the 2013 floods in the state, and the Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh of tax fraud.
I'm totally innocent, an attempt is being made to frame me up, and I know truth prevails in the end: Virbhadra Singh pic.twitter.com/MX2feo6e9n— ANI (@ANI_news) July 23, 2015
Around four minutes after Lok Sabha convened today, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan adjourned the lower house till Monday as the opposition continued its call for resignations. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned in the afternoon in the midst of chaos in the upper house.