NEW DELHI -- Responding to allegations that her family had financial ties with Lalit Modi, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today denied any conflict of interest in the role she played to procure travel documents from the British authorities for the cricket magnate, who is a fugitive from Indian law.
The foreign minister's spirited defence was the highlight of the penultimate day of the monsoon session, which, like other days, concluded without deliberation on key economic legislation such as the Goods and Services Tax bill.
The foreign minister was speaking in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday afternoon after the Congress Party agreed to debate the Lalit Modi scandal.
Swaraj said her husband was not a lawyer in Lalit Modi's passport case, and her daughter was ninth in a team of 11 lawyers, but she did not take any money from him.
"I have not done anything wrong," she said.
Over the past three weeks, the Congress Party has caused a pandemonium in parliament over the resignations of Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje over the Lalit Modi scandal, and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the Vyapam scam.
While the Congress Party has attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for not addressing these scandals, the BJP has censured its political rival for harming the country by holding up discussion on critical bills, especially the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, which will bring about the biggest indirect tax reform since 1947.
"We want to know what the prime minister thinks about the Lalit Modi issue. We want the prime minister to come here and assure us that action will be taken," Congress Party lawmaker Mallikarjun Kharge said in the Lok Sabha.
Demanding an explanation from Modi instead of Swaraj, Kharge said, "The prime minister has covered his ears, eyes and mouth."
After speaking for an hour, Kharge said that Swaraj should resign on moral grounds, and for "direct or indirect" involvement. The Congress Party resumed shouting slogans when Swaraj rose to reply to the allegations against her.
Speaking in the midst of an uproar, the foreign minister reiterated the defence she gave in the Lok Sabha, last week, but launched a scathing attack on the Congress Party by raking up scandals under its rule.
"Conflict of interest is when P Chidambaram's wife Nalini accepts a payment of Rs1 crore in Saradha scam," she said.
Even as the din grew louder in the Lok Sabha, Swaraj targeted Congress Vice Party President Rahul Gandhi, who has called her a "criminal" for helping Lalit Modi.
"I want to say to Rahul Gandhi, who likes taking holidays, that when you are on your next break, sit in peace and read your family history," she said. "And then come home and ask mamma, how much did we take from Quattrochi, and why did we let Anderson escape," the foreign minister said.
"This is called quid pro quo," she said, spelling out the Latin phrase which means "something for something."
After Swaraj Spoke
Following Swaraj's address, Gandhi retorted that "PM Narendra Modi doesn't have the guts to sit here and face our questions," and added that "while the PM wants to silence me, the Congress party will not be silenced."
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that Congress' assertions were baseless and "lacked strength," and deemed Gandhi as an "expert without knowledge."
The Lok Sabha rejected an adjournment motion against Swaraj by voice vote after which the Congress walked out.
Lalit Modi Scandal
The Congress Party has demanded resignations of Swaraj and Raje for helping Lalit Modi, a fugitive from Indian law, who is being investigated for financial irregularities and money laundering when he was the chairman of the Indian Premier League.
While Swaraj assisted Modi in securing travel documents from the British government, last year, Raje backed his immigration plea in 2011 on the condition that her support will be hidden from Indian authorities.
Taking advantage of the Lok Sabha boycott by the Congress Party, last week, Swaraj gave a detailed explanation of her involvement in the Lalit Modi scandal.
The foreign minister said that she had not asked the British authorities to provide travels papers to the former IPL commissioner, but only informed the U.K. government that the issuance of such documents would not negatively impact relations between the two countries.
Swaraj said that she had acted on "humanitarian grounds" so that Lalit Modi could be with his wife, who was undergoing cancer surgery at a facility in Lisbon in August 2014.
Making the plot even murkier on Raje's front is the financial link between her son, Dushyant Singh, and Lalit Modi, who made a Rs.11.63 crore investment in his firm Niyant Heritage Hotels Pvt Ltd. in April 2008. The shares of the company were priced at Rs. 10 in 2005, but the IPL commissioner paid around Rs. 7.83 crore to 815 shares at a staggering premium of Rs. 96,180.
Congress Attacks Swaraj
While speaking on the Lalit Modi scandal today, Kharge asked why Swaraj had not asked the cricket magnate to return to India while she was extending "humanitarian" aid to his family, and why did she help him without informing the Indian government.
Describing Swaraj's allegations as "illegal," Kharge said that Lalit Modi's first priority to visit Portugal was to attend a wedding and then meet his wife.
Demanding her resignation on moral grounds, Kharge said that Swaraj's husband and daughter had worked as Lalit Modi's lawyers for several years, and their family had financial relations.
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