A day after demanding Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s resignation for his meeting with fugitive businessman Vijay Mallya, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday alleged that Mallya couldn’t have left the country without Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s approval.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded by pointing at the supposed “close relations” between the businessman and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, and how the Manmohan Singh government “had forced banks” to give him a bailout package.
The BJP’s national media chief, Anil Baluni, said there was evidence of Mallya having sent e-mails between 2010 and 2013 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as a result of which then finance minister P Chidambaram ignored rules to help the now defunct Kingfisher Airlines with loans.
In a tweet, the Congress chief alleged it was “inconceivable” that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) aided Mallya's "great escape" by changing the “detain” notice to “inform” without Prime Minister Narendra Modi's approval. The CBI is under the Department of Personnel and Training, a portfolio with the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Who is the chief architect, protector and benefactor of Mallya’s escape? Why is the PM shying away from ordering an independent probe into the matter and sacking (Finance Minister) Arun Jaitley until the probe is completed,” Congress Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked.
Baluni retorted by saying Mallya was offered a bailout package during UPA rule. “Isn’t it true that in return Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi would travel free of cost in the business class of Kingfisher Airlines?” he asked.
Surjewala said giving a loan or a bailout package to a company wasn’t a crime, but letting an offender escape the country was, which the Modi government had done.
On Thursday, Union minister and BJP leader Piyush Goyal had alleged banks had given Mallya loans under pressure from the Congress-led UPA government during 2010-11.
On Friday Surjewala released a document that purportedly showed that Goyal was appointed member of the State Bank of India’s central board in 2005 for three years.
The two parties have indulged in a war of words, and thrown allegations at each other ever since Mallya 's claim on Wednesday that he had met Jaitley before leaving for the UK. Mallya's claim in London had drawn a rebuttal from Jaitley, who said he never gave any appointment to the fugitive liquor baron but the latter used his privilege as an MP to accost him once in Parliament.
Immediately after Jaitley's rebuttal on Wednesday, Mallya appeared to tone down the seriousness of his comments, saying it was “not fair” to create a controversy over the issue as it was not a “formal meeting” and he had only “happened to meet” the finance minister.
Congress leader P L Punia on Thursday said he had seen Jaitley in "an elaborate 15-20 minute-meeting" with Mallya on March 1, 2016, a day before the businessman left India. To this, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had asked whether there was an audio recording of the meeting available.