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Sushma Swaraj’s defence on Lalit Modi raises more questions

New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s spirited defence using all her oratorical skills in the Lok Sabha reiterating that she only helped the IPL founder Lalit Modi’s wife on “humanitarian grounds” has raised more questions.

The trail left by Lalit Modi himself, after he secured the British documents to travel to Portugal where his wife was supposed to get operated on August 4, 2014, was found enjoying himself on August 6, in front the church in Fatima, the Catholic pilgrimage site about 100km outside Lisbon, just two days after attending his “ailing” wife. On August 8, along with his wife Minal, he was seen in Ibiza, the island in Spain, favoured by the rich and famous as a party destination.

An emotionally charged Swaraj asked why punish Modi’s wife suffering from cancer for 17 years and it developing for the tenth time. “If Sonia Gandhi were in my place, she would have also done so. However, if it were a crime to help a cancer patient, let the House punish me,” she said in a suo moto statement, accusing that the Opposition had done “injustice” to her by levelling baseless charges.

Though Swaraj read her statement in the absence of Opposition, who are boycotting the session on account of suspension of 25 MPs, the Congress rejected her explanation, pointing out that she could have given Indian travel papers to Lalit Modi on compassionate grounds. Why did she not tell the British government to repatriate him as he was wanted for crimes in India, asked Congress leader Anand Sharma. She will be again face test as it is her ministry that has to ask the British government to arrest and repatriate Lalit Modi to India in view of a non-bailable warrant (NBW) issued by a Mumbai court against him on Wednesday. Stating that it must be the effect of her “grah,” (planetary situation) an emotionally charged Sushma said: “It is unfortunate that my closest friends in Opposition are levelling charges against me. These are my bad days. I am sure they will be over.”

She asserted that she has never requested or recommended the British authorities to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, challenging the Opposition wanting her resignation to show any paper or e-mail as a proof of their charge of helping an absconder wanted for crimes in India.

“What crime did I commit? Did I extend some financial benefit to Lalit Modi? Did I help him flee from India? Did I stop an inquiry against him?” she asked, explaining that she had only made a verbal request, leaving it to the British government to consider his case if its rules allow and assuring that it would not affect the bilateral relations between India and Britain.

Explaining the background under which she helped Lalit Modi’s wife when she was operated for cancer for the 10th time in a Portugal research centre whose doctors said her ailment was life-threatening and that she may even die during the operation as both of her kidneys were damaged. So she wanted her husband to be present on August 4, 2014 when she was scheduled to undergo surgery. Sushma also quoted from a letter of the centre’s director, Dr Carlo, which said, “Presence of Mrs Modi and her husband is required.”

She also quoted from the statement of Lalit Modi’s wife to the British Home Office that they are married for 20 years but “I need him now than ever.”

But the UK authorities who were refusing travel documents to Modi till August 1, did relent on the intervention of Swaraj, which they treated as a diplomatic signal for change in policy on the former IPL commissioner. The UK had earlier placed restrictions on Modi’s travel in view of Enforcement Directorate’s actions over his alleged role in money laundering

The UK officials had on July 3, 2014 informed Lalit Modi in writing, that he has been denied visa. “Lalit Modi was wanted by law. It was confirmed by Finance Minister of this and the previous government. There were 14 cases in which Lalit Modi was already served notice. Should a minister then clandestinely arrange travel documents for such a person?” Sharma asked. “Why did Sushma Swaraj intervene voluntarily to ensure travel document for Lalit when the UK government did not ask for that? It’s ridiculous,” he said.

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