With the opposition stalling Parliament for the second day by insisting on the removal of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan over the controversies surrounding them, the BJP sought to turn the tables Wednesday by launching a counter-offensive, instructing its MPs to “take them on in Parliament and on the streets”.
Swaraj herself was the first off the block in the morning when she tweeted that a senior Congress leader had pressed her to give a diplomatic passport to former minister Santosh Bagrodia, summoned as an accused in the coal scam by a special CBI court on Tuesday.
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“A senior Congress leader was pressing me hard to give diplomatic passport to the Coal Scam accused Santosh Bagrodia. I will disclose name of the leader on the floor of the House,” Swaraj said on Twitter.
Hours later, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman called a press conference and released a CD of a “sting operation” that purportedly shows the secretary of Chief Minister Harish Rawat in Congress-ruled Uttarakhand negotiating with a middleman allegedly linked to private liquor distributors.
Ahead of the CD release, the counter-strategy was explained to MPs at a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party which was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. MPs were told to be combative and rally behind the three leaders being targeted by the opposition.
Sources said the Prime Minister urged MPs to be present in Parliament during the session, and be ready with facts. “Books have been distributed. There is enough masala in them. Dhyan se padhiye (read it carefully),” sources quoted Modi as saying.
The Prime Minister was referring to two booklets — ‘Vyapam: Myths’ and ‘Reality and Saga of Scams in Congress-ruled States’. The second booklet, sources said, lists scams and allegations against chief ministers of Kerala, Assam, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh and a note on the law and order situation in TMC-ruled West Bengal.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi quoted Shah as telling MPs: “We will expose those who are trying to disrupt our journey on the path to progress with fabricated issues. We will take them on in Parliament and on the streets… We will not let Congress succeed. Our state governments, our chief ministers are doing very good work and doing it with honesty.”
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, in charge of coordinating with state units to prepare a counter-offensive, was also present at the meeting, a BJP leader said.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley explained the party stand to MPs. Dismissing the Congress argument that it was the UPA government that had acted against former IPL chief Lalit Modi, he said the UPA had taken the “teeth out of” the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, which had provisions for strict action against violators, and brought in the Foreign Exchange Management Act with less stringent clauses.
Swaraj too told MPs that she had helped Lalit Modi only on humanitarian grounds. Naqvi quoted her as saying: “Neither did I offer any financial benefit to him nor did I help him flee India. I never told the British government to give him travel documents. All I did was to tell them that their decision (on Lalit Modi’s request) will not affect their ties with India. The Congress is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. Here, there is not even a molehill.”
Since the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister was not present, Swaraj, an MP from the state, also spoke on the Vyapam scam. She maintained that Chouhan had done nothing wrong, that it was he who had started taking action in the matter.
A minister who is part of the BJP’s strategy preparation said the party will stand behind its leaders under attack. “After going through the documents the leaders handed, the party understands very well that we have nothing to worry about. No one has done any indefensible thing. So let us face it and tell the truth.”