NEW DELHI -- Congress stepped up its attack on External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday, a day after she gave a statement in Parliament daring the Opposition parties to prove she had approached the British government to get travel papers for tainted former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi rejected Swaraj's statement in Parliament as mere "theatrics". Meanwhile her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi alleged that Swaraj's assistance to Modi was carried out in secret, and no one in her ministry knew what was happening, he said.
"Sushma Swaraj is doing drama, she is an expert in theatrics," said Sonia Gandhi at the Parliament complex on Friday, where she was protesting against the suspension of Congress MPs along with other party leaders. "I would have certainly done my best to help the lady but not by breaking the law," she said while replying to the External Affairs Minister's question if she would have acted differently if faced with such a situation.
Congress protest against suspension of Congress MPs, at Gandhi statue in Parliament premises. pic.twitter.com/K1M3m5vhaC— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
Meanwhile the younger Gandhi went on to make a more damning allegation -- asking Swaraj to explain how much money her family had received from Lalit Modi.
"When a theft occurs, two things take place. Whatever happens is in secrecy and there is a financial transfer," he said. "What Sushmaji did was by maintaining secrecy and keeping her ministry in the dark."
"Sushmaji should tell the country how much money her family, her daughter and husband got from Lalit Modi to keep him out of jail," he told reporters on Friday. He also denied Swaraj's claims that Sonia Gandhi would have done the same in her place.
"Sushmaji made a very eloquent but a very hollow speech. She spoke when the opposition was not in the House," said the Congress leader.
Swaraj had yesterday made an emotional statement in the Lok Sabha, saying she had not helped Modi but his cancer-stricken wife and questioned if Sonia would have acted differently if faced with such a situation.
She had insisted that she had made "no request or recommendation" to the UK government for giving travel documents to Modi but had left the decision to Britain.
She said she had only told the British government that relations with that country will not be affected if they choose to provide him travel documents to visit Portugal to be with his wife who was facing "life threatening" ailment and required immediate treatment which was full of risk.
"His wife has been suffering from cancer for the last 17 years and it is the 10th time it has recurred... I want to ask what Sonia Gandhi would have done had she been in my place.
Would she have left her to die," she said, reading from the reports of Portuguese doctors and the statement of Modi's wife.
Protests Disrupt Parliament
Meanwhile Congress leaders continued to protest against the suspension of MPs at Parliament. Cries of "PM chupi todon (PM, break your silence)" and "taanashahi nahi chalegi (dictatorship won't stand)" were heard at the Congress protest. Similar slogans inside the Rajya Sabha led to two adjournments today.
Congress protest against suspension of Congress MPs, at Gandhi statue in Parliament premises. pic.twitter.com/vBySO89IVi— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
"PM chupi todon" "taanashahi nahi chalegi" slogans raised at Cong protest against suspension of Congress MPs at Parl pic.twitter.com/4KUVfcgKgT— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati too dismissed Swaraj's statement in Parliament defending her stance. "We are not convinced with Sushma Swaraj's speech," she said. "Law should have been kept in mind with humanity."
Ramgopal Yadav from Samajwadi Party took Swaraj's side, saying he was convinced. BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy said that the difference between Sushma Swaraj and Sonia Gandhi was that "some people know how to express their views in the Parliament, while other's don't."
BJP MP Smriti Irani too strongly defended Swaraj, alleging that calling her speech "theatrics" was disrespecting the mandate of the people.
"Sushmaji's speech is a challenge for the opposition to get proof against her," said Irani on Friday. "It is easy for Soniaji to give a byte, not easy for her to give a speech without reading it out from a paper."
Sonia Gandhi joins in anti-Modi slogans in the Parliament courtyard. pic.twitter.com/ovcc8ZbblM— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
She also spoke out against Rahul and other Congress party members after some of the youth leaders took their shirt off in protest against the Speaker. "Is this the respect Congress has for women, in the protest against Speaker, they took off their shirts?" she said. "Are these the values that Rahul Gandhi wants to give the party?"
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that Sonia "must realise that she is the President of principal opposition, she must look into choice of her words."
He also admonished Rahul. "I will gently remind Mr Rahul Gandhi that he is where he is due to legacy of his family," he said. "He must reflect upon pitiable condition of Congress." BJP's Shrikant Sharma said that Rahul was "running from discussions in Parliament."
"If he's serious about his allegations, he should come inside Parliament for discussion," he said.
Separately, Left parties too protested inside the Parliament premises on Friday, demanding high level investigation into both the Lalit Modi scandal and Vyapam scam.
"We want inquiry be conducted into Lalit Modi gate and Vyapam," said Sitaram Yechury. "Concerned Ministers should resign until inquiry is completed."
We are not convinced with Sushma Swaraj's speech. Law should have been kept in mind with humanity: Mayawati pic.twitter.com/ueon8P2gYt— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
Left parties protest demanding high level investigation into Lalit gate, Vyapam scam case, in Parliament premises. pic.twitter.com/EX8n9D7IxY— ANI (@ANI_news) August 7, 2015
Former Finance Minister P Chidambaram too questioned Swaraj over her statement.
"There are three versions of the 'intervention' by Ms Swaraj. We would like to know who is speaking the truth? British High Commissioner (James) Bevan or British MP Kieth Vaz or Minister Sushma Swaraj?" he said.
Chidambaram said, "To answer Ms Sushma Swaraj's question: Would not have left Lalit Modi's wife to die. Would have advised him to apply to the Indian High Commission for a temporary Indian travel document valid only for Portugal."
(with agency inputs)