The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Thursday rejected Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s demand that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley should step down over his purported meeting with Vijay Mallya in Parliament on March 1, 2016, and his “collusion” in helping the disgraced businessman leave India.
Instead, the BJP asked the Congress chief to quit all posts that he holds since his family’s “relations” forced banks to sanction loans to Mallya’s company in 2010-11, when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was ruling at the Centre.
The Congress asked six questions to the government.
“Who asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to change its “Lookout Notice” dated October 16, 2015, to “Detain Vijay Mallya” into a mere “Inform Notice” on November 23, 2015?” Gandhi asked. He said this can only be done by the "the authority that controls CBI", and Jaitley should come clean whether he got it changed, or was "ordered from above" to get the notice changed. The CBI comes under the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), which is a portfolio with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
In an interview to news channel NDTV, former Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said it is a “big coincidence” that Mallya left India on the day a consortium of banks moved to recover debts, and that it was possible that “someone could have tipped-off Mallya”.
In the afternoon, the party fielded spokesperson Sambit Patra. Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nirmala Sitharaman, all of whom are seen as Jaitley’s protégés, came out in support of their mentor by evening.
Goyal said the fugitive businessman was a criminal under the “glare of law” and his words could not be taken seriously.
Sitharaman termed the Congress demand for the finance minister’s resignation as “motivated”. She said a brief conversation that Mallya had with Jaitley in a corridor of Parliament is being “played up” and asserted that responses to the issue have “reinforced” the fact it was not a conversation of any merit.
At a press conference in the afternoon, the Congress president said party Member of Parliament P L Punia saw Jaitley sitting with Mallya in Parliament’s Central Hall on March 1, 2016, and held an elaborate 15-20-minute meeting with him.
Punia added he had seen Jaitley and Mallya talking discreetly when he was in the Central Hall of Parliament.
To this, Sitharaman asked if the footage would also have an audio recording. Goyal, Prasad and Sitharaman said the letters were written to the Reserve Bank of India and State Bank of India during the UPA’s rule to help Mallya.
In a series of tweets, Prasad said Mallya and Rahul Gandhi were working in “tandem” and the conspiracy was hatched during Rahul Gandhi’s recent visit to London. Goyal said the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines was given loans bypassing all norms, laws and regulations during the UPA years.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked how Prasad and his family members have been visiting London, and would that mean they have also colluded with Mallya?
In the evening, the Congress president tweeted: “For 2.5 years, Mr Jaitley has hidden from the public and the investigation agencies the meeting he now suddenly remembers, in which Mr Mallya told him he was leaving for London. This is enough to make his continuance as FM as untenable and disgraceful.”
Mallya had on Wednesday claimed in London that he had met Jaitley before fleeing to the UK. Refuting Mallya’s claim, Jaitley had said he had never given him an appointment since 2014, but he used his privilege as a Member of Parliament to accost him once in Parliament.
Immediately after Jaitley’s rebuttal on Wednesday, Mallya had said it was “not fair” to create a controversy over this issue as it was not a “formal meeting” and he only “happened to meet” the finance minister.
“The logistics of Mr Mallya leaving the country were discussed in that meeting,” Rahul Gandhi alleged, and also raised the Rafale deal issue. He went on to say that Mallya was given free passage out of the country by the finance minister. Describing it as an “open-and-shut case of collusion”, he alleged there was some deal between Jaitley and Mallya.
Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy tweeted: “We have now two undeniable facts on the Mallya escape issue: 1. Look Out Notice was diluted on October 24, 2015 from ‘Block’ to ‘Report’ departure, enabling Mallya to depart with 54 checked luggage items. 2. Mallya told FM in the Central Hall of Parliament that he was leaving for London.”
Both during his tenure as the chief minister of Gujarat and later as prime minister, Narendra Modi has never sacked a minister under attack from the Opposition. The PM had backed External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj when her role in helping former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi had been questioned by the Opposition.
The PM had also backed Jaitley when he was attacked by Swamy, as well as Home Minister Rajnath Singh, after speculation about some of the dealings of his son.