A week after the Congress held a press conference targeting party chief Amit Shah’s son Jay Shah’s alleged business dealings after a report in The Wire, the BJP on Tuesday fielded Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to question the “silence” of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi over a report on Times Now that in 2012, fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari bought business-class air tickets for Rahul’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra.
“Why (are) the senior leadership of the Congress, inclusive of the Congress president and vice president, keeping a studied silence,” Sitharaman asked. “Studied silence on a matter on which their spokespersons even last year were vehemently demanding that no speculation be done, just talking with people does not establish any commercial interest between them… I am referring to a few instances of give and take which have been happening between an absconding arms dealer in the name of Sanjay Bhandari and his talk, conversation and slightly more than that, in terms of other assistance with Robert Vadra.”
Referring to a report on Times Now, Sitharaman said: “The Congress vice president who is very active, probably copying the Prime Minister of India on Twitter, and comes out with lots of interesting twists to the tale each time to bring in a sense of humour has remained silent,” she said.
Reacting to this, Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said Prime Minister Narendra Modi can order any investigation into allegations against Vadra to find out if there was any “wrongdoing”.
“As far as any allegations against Robert Vadra are concerned, we will only say, Modiji has been in power for 41 months. They have a government in Haryana and Rajasthan and by all means, conduct any investigation that you choose and come to a conclusion through a free and fair process of law of any wrongdoing,” Surjewala told reporters in Bangaluru.
Citing the media report, Sitharaman alleged that a London house linked to Vadra was refurbished by Bhandari, who also made arrangements for his travel abroad. She claimed that an amount of 7.5 lakh Swiss franc was deposited in a bank account of Bhandari and asked if there was a connection between this and the money spent on refurbishing the London house linked to Vadra. Sitharaman alleged that there were at least three transactions between them with “serious financial implications”.
“Can somebody from the Congress, not come and give us platitudes but tell us how this will get explained,” Sitharaman asked. “The Congress’s first family’s son-in-law is linked to the person in question.”
Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani targeted Rahul Gandhi with her tweet: “Eagerly awaiting Rahul Ji’s poetic explanation for #VadraTicketGate.”
Asked about the CBI’s progress in the case investigating Bhandari, Sitharaman said this question should be put to the agency.
“The government is taking all steps to bring the absconding arms dealer back to India to face the law,” Sitharaman added.
Congress spokesperson Tom Vadakkan said: “The question is how did Sanjay Bhandari escape in their charge. Who gave him the passport to escape? These are larger questions. When this man should have been arrested and prevented from leaving the country, they let him loose. The question is where is he and why is not being arrested.”
On allegations that Bhandari booked air tickets for Vadra, he said: “This is all fabricated. We are not going to answer to the BJP. The questions are posed to them. How did the accused escape?…all this is timelined for the Gujarat election.”