The Narendra Modi government is apparently facing the first test of its much-promised probity in governance, with the Opposition coming down heavily on the Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for helping former IPL chief Lalit Modi — an accused in the multi-billion dollar scam — in getting travel documents from the UK government.

Swaraj reportedly helped Lalit Modi in securing travel documents in July last year for journeying to Portugal for the treatment of his cancer-afflicted wife. The Minister had said on Sunday she helped Lalit Modi on “humanitarian grounds”.

Opposition parties, led by the Congress, on Monday termed Swaraj’s position as “untenable” and demanded that Modi should make his stand clear on the issue. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is travelling, asked Modi to sack Swaraj for protecting and granting travel permission to the former IPL commissioner. “Modi should sack Sushma Swaraj... because Narendra Modi said he is protector... he is the person who is getting black money back. (Lalit) Modi is a symbol of black money outside... Sushma Swaraj is protecting him,” he said.

Consent of PM

Accusing the government and BJP of evading the 11 questions put to them yesterday, the Congress on Monday wanted to know the relationship between Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Lalit Modi, and whether Swaraj could withdraw the written communication of the Government of India without consent from the Finance Minister and Prime Minister to help him get travel documents.

“The matter will go right up to the highest office, said Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala at a press meet here. “Is the tacit approval of the Prime Minister not writ large? Why did the government help a fugitive involved in a hawala , betting, match-fixing and money-laundering racket amounting to nearly ₹700 crore?”

Conflict of interest

He said there is a clear cut case of conflict of interest, as Swaraj’s daughter Bansuri Swaraj appeared for Lalit Modi in a passport case in Delhi. The Minister’s husband Swaraj Kaushal gave legal counsel to the former IPL boss for over two decades.

Citing some photographs in the social media, Surjewala said Lalit Modi is very close to the BJP top brass, including the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah. “Lalit Modi not only had a direct association — as also a client-counsel relationship — with Swaraj’s family but also appears to have a long-standing relationship with the Prime Minister and Shah, as facts available in public domain establish,” he said.

“In the interest of transparency, the Government of India should release the letters written to the UK Chancellor (George Osborne) on the Lalit Modi case,” said former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.

Surjewala said Chidambaram had written two letters to Osborne, asking him for action against Lalit Modi. The Left parties also asked the Prime Minister to break his silence on the issue. The CPI(M) said Swaraj’s intervention in the matter is completely unacceptable.

The NDA, however, stood firm with Swaraj. Ally Shiv Sena called the Opposition’s protests an attempt to destabilise the government. “The way the External Affairs Ministry had performed under Swaraj, it has become a strong pillar of the Modi government. She is being targeted to weaken the government and destabilise it,” said Sena leader Sanjay Raut. The TDP also said Swaraj had done no wrong.

Union Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the way Swaraj had been attacked was “completely unacceptable”. Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said Swaraj’s actions were not illegal and things done on humanitarian grounds should not be politicised.

The Trinamool Congress, meanwhile, distanced itself from party leader Saugata Roy’s demand that Swaraj own up to having done something.