NEW DELHI -- While the Congress Party boycotted Lok Sabha for the third day, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took the opportunity to speak about the Lalit Modi scandal, and insist that she had done nothing wrong.
Swaraj said that she had never asked the British government to give travel papers to Lalit Modi, a fugitive from Indian law, who was being investigated by Indian agencies for money laundering and financial irregularities connected to the Indian Premier League tournament. This week, the Mumbai High Court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against the cricket-magnate who is based in London.
The foreign minister challenged the Opposition to provide any proof that she had requested the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi or recommend the same.
"I have never asked the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi. I have never made a recommendation to the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi," she said. "I never requested and never made a recommendation."
"Today, I challenge my accusers to present one paper, one note, one letter, one email in which I have written one sentence that says give travel documents to Lalit Modi or you should give it."
The British government made the decision to give Lalit Modi, Swaraj said, and she communicated that it would not negatively impact relations between India and the United Kingdom.
"I left this decision entirely to the British government. The first sentence of the oral message I sent them was, 'If the British government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi that will not spoil our bilateral relations,'" she said. "My message only has an impact once they decide in favour or against issuing him travel documents. And that message which I sent was purely on humanitarian grounds."
Observers have also questioned why Swaraj did not inform the Ministry of External Affairs before making this decision, especially since Lalit Modi is absconding from the law. The former IPL commissioner has said that Swaraj's husband and daughter have been his lawyers for several years, and he has close relations with their family.
Shortly after the scandal broke on June 14, the foreign minister admitted to helping Lalit Modi procure travel documents on "humanitarian grounds" so that he could visit his wife while she was undergoing cancer treatment in August 2014 at a facility in Portugal.
Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that "British Government should examine the request of— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 14, 2015
Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British Government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi,— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) June 14, 2015
Today, Swaraj said that she had acted on "humanitarian grounds" to help Lalit Modi's wife who has been suffering from cancer for the past 17 years. "This time, the doctor told her that your cancer is life threatening and the treatment is filled with risks that is why we want your husband here," she said.
Swaraj then asked Speaker Sumitra Mahajan what should we done in similar circumstances.
"What would Sonia Gandhi have done if she was in my place," she said. "Lalit Modi was not helped. I helped an Indian woman, suffering from cancer, who has no criminal against her. If helping such a woman is a crime then I'm guilty and I will bear the consequences."
Paralysis In Parliament
Several opposition parties have demanded resignations of Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for helping Lalit Modi, and they also want Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to step down over the Vyapam scam.
The Opposition has made these resignations a precondition to the normal functioning of the parliament, presently open for the Monsoon Session, which runs from June 21 to August 13. So far, no work has been done in nearly three weeks.
While the Modi government has critical bills pending in parliament, the Congress Party is staging a five-day boycott of the Lok Sabha after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended over half of its members for obstructing the lower house.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has ruled out resignations of their leader, but offered to debate all these controversies in parliament. Earlier this week, Swaraj attempted to address the Rajya Sabha, but her voice was drowned by a volley of shouts from the opposition.
Dismissing Swaraj's defence, the Congress Party said that Lalit Modi received travel documents because she intervened on his behalf, and accused the central government of hiding the fact that his application was first rejected by the British authorities.
Describing her defence as "hogwash," Congress Party leader Anand Sharma said that today's statement contradicted what the foreign minister had said on June 14. "Should a minister clandestinely arrange or facilitate the issuance of travel documents when the request was rejected earlier by the British authorities," he said.
Addressing a press conference on Thursday afternoon, the Congress Party displayed photos of Lalit Modi from several foreign locations.
Mocking Swaraj's "humanitarian grounds" stand, Sharma asked why was Lalit Modi traveling around the world within 48 hours of receiving his travel documents.