After seeking the resignation of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi over Vijay Mallya, saying the lookout circular issued by the CBI against the businessman three years ago could not have been downgraded from “detain” at immigration to merely “inform” without the approval of the Prime Minister.
The Congress questioned the PM’s silence on the Mallya issue, and asked who was the “chief architect” of his “escape” from India and “who was his protector and benefactor”.
The BJP hit back, saying the Congress’s proximity to Mallya during its regime had already been proved. “Why is the Prime Minister shying away from ordering an independent probe in the matter and sacking Jaitley until a probe is completed? Prime Minister Modi’s credibility is at stake today. If the Prime Minister does not act, it will be proved that the chowkidar (watchman) is not just bhagidar (partner) but a gunahgar (culprit) as well,” Congress communication department chief Randeep Surjewala told reporters.
“Mallya’s Great Escape was aided by the CBI quietly changing the ‘Detain’ notice for him, to ‘Inform’. The CBI reports directly to the PM. It is inconceivable that the CBI, in such a high profile, controversial case, would change a lookout notice without the approval of the PM,” Rahul tweeted earlier in the day.
Alleging that the Congress was close to Mallya, Anil Baluni, the head of the media cell of the BJP, cited several instances including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement in February 2011 that the UPA government would look into ways to salvage Kingfisher Airlines from its crisis.
The BJP alleged the Congress government had eased rules to give relief to Mallya’s Kingfisher company and that Mallya had written to Singh thanking him for what the UPA government had done for him. It also asked whether it was not a fact that both Rahul and Sonia Gandhi had been given first class passenger facilities by Kingfisher. “Congress president Rahul Gandhi is a victim of ideological bankruptcy,” the statement said.
The Congress, on the other hand, asked whether the silence of the PM and Jaitley regarding its Rajya Sabha MP P L Punia’s assertion that he had witnessed Mallya meeting Jaitley in the central hall of Parliament on March 1, 2016, the day before the businessman left for the UK, was an “admission of guilt”.
“Jaitley has maintained a conspiratorial silence, not daring to rebut Punia in any manner. Does it not prove something terribly fishy about Jaitley’s conduct? Is his silence an admission of guilt?” Surjewala asked. The Congress asked why Jaitley remained silent about his meeting with Mallya for over 30 months. “There was a debate in Rajya Sabha in March 2016. Why did he not state this fact on the floor of the House… Why did he not come clean about it earlier?” he asked.
Referring to senior lawyer Dushyant Dave’s statement that State Bank of India did not act on his advice to approach the Supreme Court on February 29, 2016, for getting an order restraining Mallya from leaving the country, Surjewala asked, “Who in the Modi government told the SBI and other banks to not move the Supreme Court… to block the escape of Mallya?… Why did the banks wait to move the Supreme Court against Mallya up till March 5, 2016, when Mallya had already escaped… Does it not prove a sinister conspiracy to help Mallya?”