About 48 hours after the controversy over External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj facilitating travel documents for businessman Lalit Modi broke, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley came out in defence of his ministerial colleague. He said a blue-corner notice issued by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence was pending against former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi. Jaitley said it was for the passport authorities to decide whether to appeal against the Delhi High Court order that restored the validity of Lalit Modi’s passport.
Asked how he, the pre-eminent crisis manager of the National Democratic Alliance government, had been conspicuous by his absence in defending the government on the controversy, Jaitley said Swaraj had acted in a “bona fide” manner and with “good intentions”. When asked whether Swaraj had acted unilaterally in helping Lalit Modi, Jaitley said all ministers in the government were competent in taking decisions, adding the government believed in collective responsibility.
“All allegations levelled are baseless. She acted bona fide. The entire government and the party are one on the issue. There should be no doubt on this,” said Jaitley, flanked by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.
When asked about the “snakes in the grass” that party MP Kirti Azad had referred to in one of his tweets, Jaitley said, “Agla sawal poochhiye (Ask the next question).”
Jaitley and Singh were scheduled to address a press conference at the home ministry on central assistance to the flood-ravaged Jammu & Kashmir. The two ministers took the opportunity to answer questions on what the Congress has termed #Modigate.
The finance and home ministries are housed in North Block and Jaitley walked to Singh’s chambers, where Swaraj joined them. The three held discussions for about an hour.
The home minister, a former BJP president, was one of the first to defend Swaraj, saying she was spurred by humanitarian considerations in helping Lalit Modi.
Surface transport minister Nitin Gadkari, also a former party president, Gadkari said, “The Congress is playing petty over this. It reeks of that party’s frustration at lack of electoral success.” IT and communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, too, came out in Swaraj’s support.
Jaitley’s defence of Swaraj came on a day when documents, whose authenticity is uncertain, showed Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje was allegedly the secret witness to Lalit Modi's immigration application to the UK in 2011. The documents do not have any signature. At that time, Raje was the opposition leader in Rajasthan. “Of course I know the family (of Lalit Modi) but I do not know what documents are being discussed,” Raje said. The Rajasthan CM had, by 2013, distanced herself from Lalit Modi because of the money laundering allegations against him.
In 2010, the external affairs ministry had revoked Lalit Modi’s passport, as he was wanted in connection with a money laundering case and was living in London. In mid-2014, Swaraj put in a word with the United Kingdom immigration authorities, which enabled him to travel to Portugal to be with his ailing wife. In the meantime, the Delhi High Court had asked the government to restore his passport. Asked whether the Enforcement Directorate (ED) would appeal against the Delhi High Court decision quashing the revocation of passport, Jaitley said, “The matter of passport comes within the jurisdiction of passport authorities. They will decide.”
To whether the ED would continue its probe in the Lalit Modi matter, the finance minister said the department had investigated several cases against the person concerned (Modi) and had issued a number of show-cause notices as part of its quasi judicial functions. “I understand that out of 16 investigations, show-cause notices have been issued in 15. This is the information I have. One is still under investigation,” he said.
On whether the ED had issued a blue-corner notice against Lalit Modi, he said, “There is confusion about shades of blue…There is a procedure of a blue-corner notice issued by the Interpol. There is a procedure of a light blue corner notice issued by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (of India) at the request of the ED. That notice was issued in 2010 and that notice continues to be valid even today.” Lalit Modi’s lawyer had argued there was no blue collar notice by the Interpol issued against his client.
Meanwhile, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying, “Who is Lalit Modi? He is a man of black money. In the world of cricket, he is a man of black money. Now, Modiji is jumping to his rescue.” Recalling Modi had promised voters to bring back black money from abroad, Gandhi said, “Now, when the time has come, Modiji is saving (Lalit) Modi. The BJP can say all they want to but the truth is the PM is saving a man with black money.”
The party sought an independent inquiry by a Supreme Court-monitored special investigation team (SIT). “There has been nexus of the senior leadership of the government (with Lalit Modi), which has been in cahoots in cricket management or mismanagement. An independent inquiry by a Supreme Court-monitored SIT is necessary,” said spokesperson Anand Sharma.
Senior party leader Digvijaya Singh asked: “Why are the PM and FM quiet in the Sushma Swaraj case? They are two people who should clarify the legal position….Didn’t Lalit Modi level charges of corruption against Arun Jaitley in distribution of BJP tickets in the Rajasthan Assembly elections?...In a similar case in 1992, Madhav Singh Solanki had to resign as minister of foreign affairs when he handed a note to Swiss authorities (in the Bofors kickback issue).”