External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj on Sunday was at the centre of a row after admitting to having helped former IPL chief LalitModi procure documents to travel to Portugal last July on "humanitarian grounds" with the Congress demanding her resignation for "gross impropriety".
SushmaSwaraj, in a series of 14 tweets, said she helped LalitModi, who has been staying in London since 2010 following allegations of financial impropriety, after he approached her last July, saying his wife was suffering from cancer and was to undergo surgery in Portugal.
SushmaSwaraj, however, denied having sought any favour for her nephew JyotirmayKaushal with regard to his admission in a law course at Sussex University.
"What benefit did I pass on to LalitModi – that he could sign consent papers for surgery of his wife suffering from cancer? He was in London. After his wife's surgery, he came back to London. What is it that I changed?" she said in angry tweets.
SushmaSwaraj is reported to have spoken to Prime Minister NarendraModi about the matter, even as BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh came out in support of the senior minister.
While the Congress demanded the minister's resignation for "gross impropriety" for having helped LalitModi, against whom the Enforcement Directorate has filed charges, many BJP leaders, as well as Samajwadi Party's Ram GopalYadav, came out in her support.
Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted his support: "SushmaSwarajJi's life is an epitome of transparency and probity in public service. Any attempt to misconstrue humanitarian action will fail."
Ram GopalYadav said: "SushmaSwaraj has done nothing wrong, it's unfortunate that people have hyped this matter."
The incident was triggered after Britain's Sunday Times reported an email exchange between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson, citing SushmaSwaraj, to facilitate travel documents for LalitModi.
The Sunday Times in its report said: "Leaked correspondence reveals how Vaz cited SushmaSwaraj, India's foreign minister, to the Home Office in an effort to expedite the case of LalitModi, a mutual acquaintance."
"… LalitModi spoke to me that his wife was suffering from cancer and her surgery was fixed for 4th Aug in Portugal. He told me that he had to be present in the Hospital to sign the consent papers," SushmaSwaraj tweeted.
"He informed me that he had applied for travel documents in London and UK government was prepared to give him the travel documents. However, they were restrained by a UPA Government communication that this will spoil Indo-UK relations," she added.
"Taking a humanitarian view, I conveyed to the British High Commissioner that British Government should examine the request of LalitModi as per British rules and regulations. If the British Government chooses to give travel documents to LalitModi – that will not spoil our bilateral relations," said the minister.
"Keith Vaz also spoke to me and I told him precisely what I told the British High Commissioner," she said.
SushmaSwaraj said: "I genuinely believe that in a situation such as this, giving emergency travel documents to an Indian citizen cannot and should not spoil relations between the two countries."
She said that a few days after that, the Delhi High Court quashed an order by the erstwhile Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to impound LalitModi's passport.
"I may also state that only a few days later, Delhi High Court quashed UPA Government's order impounding LalitModi's passport on the ground that the said order was unconstitutional being violative of fundamental rights and he got his passport back," she said.
The Enforcement Directorate has initiated proceedings against LalitModi and in March 2010, the Regional Passport Office in Mumbai had revoked his passport.
With regard to her nephew's admission, she said: "Regarding JyotirmayKaushal's admission in a law course at Sussex University, he secured admission through the normal admission process in 2013 – one year before I became a Minister."
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh demanded SushmaSwaraj's resignation "on moral grounds".
"The minister backed a person like LalitModi, against whom a lookout notice was there. All this is very serious. The external affairs minister is supporting a person who is on the run," he said.
Digvijaya Singh also demanded a clarification from Prime Minister Modi on the issue.
Congress spokesman RandeepSurjewala said the incident exposed "a clear nexus between a money launderer and match-fixer" — referring to LalitModi and the BharatiyaJanata Party (BJP).
"I want to ask the prime minister, home minister and (BJP president) Amit Shah, if tomorrow Dawood wants help on humanitarian grounds, will they help," he wondered.
He demanded her resignation on moral grounds and asked for an explanation from the government in the matter.
BahujanSamaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati said the issue would be raised in parliament when it meets next.
"We want this matter probed. We will raise it in parliament," Mayawati said.