Lalit Modi visa row: Govt, BJP chorus in Sushma Swaraj’s defence

Amid a raging controversy over India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s decision to help former IPL impresario Lalit Modi procure British travel documents on “humanitarian grounds”, the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) strongly rallied to her defence, asserting that she did nothing wrong.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has firmly stood by Mrs Swaraj, who has been facing a blistering campaign by the Congress party asking for her resignation. In a robust assertion of solidarity, senior Cabinet ministers have spoken in support of the low-key foreign minister, who is widely recognised as one of the most effective ministers in the Modi cabinet.

Two days after Home Minister Rajnath Singh defended Swaraj’s action, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has now rallied to her support, saying she acted “bona fide” and with “good intentions” and the entire government and party were one on the issue.

“All allegations levelled are baseless. Her (Swaraj) statement and that of the party President that whatever she did was with good intentions,” he said on June 16.

“She acted bona fide. The entire government and the party are one on the issue. There should be no doubt on this,” Mr Jaitley said at a joint press conference with Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Earlier, BJP president Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh had asserted that Swaraj had acted on humanitarian grounds in the matter of helping former IPL boss Lalit Modi get travel documents from Britain.

“We want to make it clear that whatever she has done is right. We justify it and the government completely stands by her,” said Rajnath Singh.

The controversy erupted after the British newspaper, The Sunday Times, reported that Keith Vaz, the British MP of Indian origin, used Ms Swaraj’s name to influence Britain’s top immigration official to grant travel documents to Lalit Modi, who is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate for Rs 425 crore forex violations. He was granted his travel papers within less than 24 hours after Mr Vaz referred to Ms Swaraj and James Bevan, Britain’s High Commissioner to India.

Mr Modi had fled to London in 2010 and has never come back since, claiming there was a ‘threat’ to his life. His Indian passport was revoked following allegations of illegal betting and match-fixing in the IPL tournament. He had sought the travel papers to be with his ailing wife in Portugal.

Ms Swaraj took to Twitter to clarify her action. “Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British high commissioner that British Government should examine the request of Lalit Modi as per British rules and regulations. If the British government chooses to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, it will not spoil our bilateral relations.”

Several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have come out in full support of Ms Swaraj’s decision, with Amit Shah saying Ms Swaraj had done no wrong considering the illness of Lalit Modi’s wife who’s suffering from cancer, and no moral issues were involved in the matter.

The opposition, however, remains unfazed by the government’s strong defence of Swaraj. Major opposition parties of India, including the Congress, AAP, the Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and the Left parties, have been clamouring for Mrs Swaraj’s resignation for helping out an economic offender.

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