Under attack from the Opposition, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha on Thursday that she had not extended any favours to former IPL chief Lalit Modi. She said she had only helped his ailing wife on “purely humanitarian grounds”, and if that was seen as a crime, she was ready to “undergo any punishment”.
Addressing Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, she said: “I want to ask what would you have done if you were in my place? What would Soniaji have done had she been in my place? Would you have left her to die?”
Why Sushma Swaraj’s Defence On Lalit Modi Controversy Is Weak
Reacting to her statement, the Congress said she had “once again misled the nation, shamelessly and unabashedly.” Releasing photographs of the former IPL chief at different foreign locations, the party said that while Swaraj claimed it was a “humanitarian” gesture, Lalit Modi has since travelled to many countries.
“You must have seen External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s tearjerker. What we saw was an apology of defence. It is a hogwash which is difficult to accept. It is punctured with multiple holes and is contradictory,” said senior Congress leader Anand Sharma.
In her statement, made minutes after Question Hour, Swaraj said: “I never requested the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi. I never recommended to the British government to provide travel documents to Lalit Modi.” None of the Opposition parties were present when she spoke.
“If it is a crime to help a woman like her, I want to say that I have committed this crime and, standing in this House, I accept my crime before the entire nation. I am ready to undergo any punishment this House may want to give me,” said Swaraj.
Swaraj said she did not want to stop, pre-empt or scuttle a discussion by taking advantage of the Opposition’s absence. “As soon as the session began, I told the presiding officers of both Houses, and even stood up in the House, to say that I want a discussion on this and I am ready for it to happen immediately,” she said. “It would be a great injustice to me if the session ends and the allegations remain unanswered and I don’t get an opportunity to put forth my side.”
Dismissing the allegations against her as “wrong, untrue, and baseless”, Swaraj said the UK home department’s communication showed that the decision to issue travel documents to Modi was taken in accordance with appropriate rules. “Had I requested or recommended this, the home office would have written that we have given these travel documents on the request or recommendation made by India’s foreign minister. They replied that that they gave the documents under their rules,” Swaraj said.
“This issue should have ended after this… But even after this, this issue was kept alive and questions were asked as to why I did this, why I did that. Before asking how and why I did it, please tell me what did I do? Did I provide any financial gain to Lalit Modi? No. Did I make Lalit Modi flee India? No. Did I stop the probe against Lalit Modi? No. Did I ask for travel documents to Lalit Modi? No. So what did I do?” she said.
“I left the decision to the British government. I did not keep any role for myself in the decision. They could have decided either way… Had they decided not to give, the impact of my communication would have ended. It would have become meaningless. But they decided to give (the travel documents),” said Swaraj.
She said that in her verbal communication to the British authorities, she had only stated that if they choose “to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, that will not spoil our bilateral relations.”
“I sent this message on purely humanitarian basis, on humanitarian grounds,” she said. Elaborating the “humanitarian grounds”, Swaraj said Modi’s wife has been suffering from cancer for the last 17 years, and her cancer had resurfaced for the tenth time. “After making an assessment, the doctors told her that her cancer this time was life-threatening and the treatment they were considering was full of risks — that she could die or both her kidneys could get damaged,” she said.
Swaraj quoted from the witness statement Modi’s wife had submitted to the British home office which said, “My medical condition has affected my family heavily and we need to support each other. In particular, I need their support and Lalit’s support most of all. Lalit and I have been married for well over 20 years and have stood by each other through thick and thin. I need him now more than ever.”
She also quoted from a letter written by the director of the research facility in Portugal where Modi’s wife was undergoing treatment. “Mrs Modi’s assessment was performed on July 14, 2014. Unfortunately, there is evidence of disease which is potentially life threatening. We will have to thoroughly assess the risk benefit ratio of the treatment options with the patient and her next of kin before a final decision is made. A therapeutic procedure has been already scheduled for August 4 at CCU, Lisbon, Portugal. The presence of Mrs Modi and her husband will be required before this date.”
Reacting to her statement, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said: “By her own admission, contained in her tweets on June 14, Swaraj admitted that she enabled the British government to give Lalit Modi travel documents. As admitted, his request for travel documents had been rejected by British authorities on July 3, 2014. Obviously, only Swaraj’s intervention helped him get the travel documents by making the British authorities reverse their decision.”
He said Swaraj spoke to the British High Commissioner on her own. Why “intervene voluntarily when the British government and their authorities have not asked the Government of India for its opinion and response. On her own volition, she picked up the telephone and spoke to the chairman of the home committee and then to the UK high commissioner,” he said.
“When the foreign minister of a country calls the ambassador or high commissioner of another country directly to convey something, that is the strongest recommendation you can give. And this is post-rejection (of Modi’s plea)… Her statement exposes her role,” he said.