Lalitgate: Fierce counter-attack by Sushma Swaraj rattles Congress; govt says EAM won't resign
The campaign for the ouster of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was on Wednesday met with a strong counter-offensive when she launched a no-holds-barred attack on Congress accusing it of having taken money to help Ottavio Quattrochchi and Warren Anderson flee India even as the government rejected the demand for her resignation.
New Delhi: The campaign for the ouster of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was on Wednesday met with a strong counter-offensive when she launched a no-holds-barred attack on Congress accusing it of having taken money to help Ottavio Quattrochchi and Warren Anderson flee India even as the government rejected the demand for her resignation.
Taking the floor after a number of searching questions were raised by Congress group leader Mallikarjun Kharge, Swaraj's charges against late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and his government and the attack on Rahul Gandhi escalated further tensions between the opposition and government as a washed-out session of Parliament comes to an end tomorrow.
On the penultimate day of the month-long session, which was paralysed over the Congress demand for Swaraj's resignation, the two sides settled for a discussion on an adjournment motion that was often acrimonious.
At the end of the day, the adjournment motion was defeated by a voice after Congress walked out of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jatiley rejected the demand for her resignation saying all the allegations against "are baseless".
Kharge, who moved an adjournment motion, raised a number of queries over Swaraj's help to former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, a "fugitive", in getting travel document "in stealth" to go outside London when law enforcement agencies were looking for him here.
He accused her of involved in conflict of interest because her husband and daughter were lawyers for Modi, which she rejected saying the two did not appear in the case of Modi's passport cancellation and did not take a single rupee as fees.
But things got personal when Swaraj began her reply and launched into a fusillade against Gandhi and the Congress governments in the past including the one headed by his late father Rajiv Gandhi.
Swaraj referred to Rahul's attack on her that she indulged in a criminal act and helped a "fugitive flee" from law in "stealth".
"Sushma does not do anything in stealth. If there was anyone who indulged in stealth it was the Rajiv Gandhi government that helped Union Carbide's chief Warren Anderson to flee from India in the wake of the Bhopal gas disaster.
"It was the Congress government that helped Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrochchi to flee from India. Rahul Gandhi, who she said often shows interest in taking two-month holidays, should sit in isolation and go into the history of Congress governments.
"Come back and ask your mother how much money did Quattrocchi give. Why was Warren Anderson, who was responsible for the deaths of 15,000 people, allowed to go out of the country," she said in her speech that riled the Congress benches.
Later, Rahul Gandhi himself took the floor and hit back at Swaraj saying she helped Lalit Modi because her family (husband and daughter) were the lawyers for him.
"I ask Sushma Swaraj how much money you got for rescuing Modi. You must be the only person in the world to help a person on humanitarian grounds in stealth," he said.
He accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of maintaining silence and cited Gandhiji's three monkeys to claim that Modi "does not see truth, does not speak truth and does not hear truth". Modi is not in the House because he does not have the guts to face truth, Rahul said.
He said the prime minister was not talking on the issue after having promised to bring blackmoney back to the country and putting Rs. 15 lakh in everybody's account.
"Mr Lalit Modi is the symbol of black money in the country. IPL is the symbol of blackmoney in the country," he said.
Replying on behalf of the government, Jaitley said a "mountain was made out of what was not even a mole hill".
Hitting back at Congress for targeting Swaraj in a sustained manner, he said she had been made a "scapegoat of a pretext" as the main reason for disrupting Parliament was to "sabotage the Indian growth story" by stalling reform legislations like GST.
He ruled out Swaraj's resignation, saying she had done nothing wrong and the Congress had created a "cloud" of a "scandal" which did not exist.
Making a scathing attack on Rahul, Jaitley said the Congress Vice President is "an expert without knowledge". Referring to his citing the story of Gandhiji and three monkeys and asked him not to "make a monkey out of the country" by holding up an entire session of Parliament.
"A mountain is being made out of what is not even a mole hill," he said, while insisting that the former UPA government had done nothing in concrete terms to bring back Lalit Modi.
He also hit out at Rahul for questioning the role of Swaraj's lawyer daughter.
"There are still some honest people whose children have to work for a living. There are other people who, for generations in politics, have not worked for a living. They have learnt the art of living comfortably without working, which we have not," he said in a veiled reference to the Gandhi-Nehru family.
Earlier, Swaraj, while intervening in the debate, tore into Congress, saying it had helped Bofors accused Ottavio Quattrocchi and Bhopal gas leak accused Warren Anderson in fleeing India and roped in Rajiv Gandhi in this regard.
She specifically responded to Rahul's charge that she had got money to help Lalit Modi, telling him to ask his "mamma" as to "how much money had been taken from Quattrocchi" and "why did 'daddy' (Rajiv Gandhi) get released the killer of 15,000 people (in Bhopal gas leak)," an apparent reference to Anderson.
Swaraj maintained that she had nothing wrong in helping Modi and she had only came to the rescue of a cancer patient who could not be left to die.
The minister, who has been battling demands for her resignation over alleged 'quid pro quo' in relation to Lalit Modi, said, "this is called quid pro quo... Rahul should ask (his mother), why they did the quid pro quo" with regard to Quattrocchi and Anderson.
While she spoke amid slogan-shouting by Congress members, Sonia Gandhi was seen listening to the speech in rapt attention using headphone.
Swaraj also targeted former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, saying he had failed to bring back Lalit Modi from United Kingdom as he did not try for his extradition as suggested by the host government and confined his requests to deportation.
"For four years, you (Congress government) did nothing. You remained inactive. There was no effort for extradition. You are asking me how he (Lalit Modi) got right of residency (in UK). He got it during your time. Whatever happened, it was during your tenure," she told the Congress.
Swaraj, who has been battling demands for her resignation over alleged 'quid pro quo' in relation to Lalit Modi, said, Rahul should ask (his mother), why they did the quid pro quo" with regard to Quattrocchi and Anderson.
Amid continuous shouting, she alleged that a man imprisoned for 35 years in the US was got released for allowing Anderson to flee as "quid pro quo".
Taking a dig at the Congress leader for going on 'sabbaticals', she told him, "you are fond of going on sabbaticals of two months. When you go on such a visit next time, he should study your family's history in alone and on return ask questions to your 'mamma'.
Questioning why she was being asked about Lalit Modi's residency and other issues, she said it all had happened during UPA rule. "You are asking me? I have been in politics for 38 years and never have I done any wrong."
She also rejected the "conflict of interest" charge and hit back by targeting Chidambaram. She said the "conflict of interest" was when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister and his wife Nalini was made the lawyer for IT department.
The Prime Minister later posted a video of Swaraj's address in Lok Sabha, tweeting a "must watch speech by @sushmaswaraj ji in Parliament".
He also posted Jaitley's address with the tweet message: "sharp and pointed speech by Shri @arunjaitley in the Lok Sabha today."
Jaitley earlier, said, "The government rejects each charge... The question of Sushma resigning does not arise."
Slamming Congress for ensuring washout of the Monsoon session, he said, "Without an issue you hold up Parliament, you waste a whole session and the real reason is that you ran a failed government, you ran a corrupt government."
Targeting the Congress Vice President said, "the difficulty with Rahul Gandhi is that he is an expert without knowledge."
He also mocked at Rahul who earlier talked about Mahatma Gandhi's three monkeys -- one who does not hear evil, another who does not see evil and third who does not speak evil -- to target the Prime Minister. "Do not make a monkey out of this country," Jaitley told Rahul.
Strongly defending Swaraj, Jaitley said when she talked to UK authorities, there was no FIR or a case against Lalit Modi.
Lalit Modi was declared a fugitive by TV channels instead of a court of law, he said.
Referring to Rahul Gandhi's monkey jibe, Jaitley said "you are very fond of saying that there were three monkeys but don't make monkey out of this country.
"Without an issue you hold up parliament, you waste a whole session and the real reason is that you ran a failed government, you ran a corrupt government. When things are beginning to look up in India and there is new confidence you somehow want to sabotage the growth story."
He referring to the Congress stalling passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) bill in the other House.
On the opposition the GST bill, he said Congress had announced it in 2006 and introduced in 2011 but now it was opposing the bill despite all its proposals being accepted.
"Once it is cleared by Lok Sabha, once in the other House the numbers are against you, so we will not allow a vote because Constitutional amendment requires a vote. ..... By just lung power you are disturbing the house," he said.
"So my entire sympathies with Sushmaji because she is the only a scapegoat of pretext, the real reason was they wanted to prevent legislation particularly the constitutional amendment on the GST," he added.
Responding to Rahul's charge that nothing is being done
to bring back black money stashed abroad, Jaitley said "we have taken some hard steps. Some people, who are critics of this government, are saying these are too harsh steps. You (Congress) did nothing. Every steps have been taken by us."
Recalling how the Congress-government messed up the case related to the former IPL commissioner, Jaitley said a notice was sent to him under FEMA for transfering money to South Africa for IPL tournament of 2009 without the permission of the Reserve Bank.
He said it was wrong as the matter related to money laundering and a case should have been registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
"The correct steps that is legislation of the case under PMLA, activation of the case, summary hearing of the case for the first time, getting the non-bailable warrant against him, moving for the red-corner against him. These are all steps which will be taken now," he said.
Jaitley said Congress-led government took virtually no steps to nail down Lalit Modi.
"Every steps that you took including wanting him to brought back physically deportation, the British said this is not permissible in law. So you were taking the wrong steps and creating a false cloud as though you are doing something and present government is favoring them. The truth is contrary that you took steps that you could never succeed," he said.
Swaraj, who spoke after Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge during a discussion on Lalit Modi issue, said it was only after Arun Jaitley took over as the Finance Minister that things have started moving on bringing back the former IPL boss.
The Minister also rejected the opposition charge that her husband and daughter had fought Lalit Modi's legal case. She said her husband was not a lawyer for Modi in the passport case as alleged and that her daughter was the 9th lawyer in the list of advocates for Lalit Modi and got "not even a rupee".
"Why should anybody give money to a junior lawyer who is 9th in the seniority row," she asked.
Prompted by Jaitley, Swaraj said her daughter had appeared with her seniors in the case.
While targeting Chidambaram, she said Congress was divided on bringing back Lalit Modi and the then Finance Minister was "alone" in his party in wanting action against him due to his "personal enmity".
Swaraj said while Chidambaram wrote to his British counterpart, the Chancellor of Exchequer, seeking his deportation, he never pressed for extradition as suggested by the UK government. Chidambaram had not even kept the External Affairs Ministry in the loop, she said.
When Swaraj started participating in the debate, it was opposed by Congress members who rushed into the Well. As they started raising slogans, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said Swaraj was free to 'intervene' as a member of BJP.
Parliamentary Affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu said while Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will reply to the debate, Swaraj was free to speak.
"Kharge attacked Swaraj for one hour. Now he should listen to her. Are questions posed by you to her so hollow?" quipped Jaitley.