Lalit Modi, the former Indian Premier League chief, has come out, all guns blazing. Unfazed about the controversy in India and holidaying in the tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro, an aggressive Modi, in an exclusive interview to consulting Editor of India Today TV channel, Rajdeep Sardesai, has made explosive claims that are bound to create ripples in New Delhi’s power corridor. Modi said that Rajasthan Chief Minister, Vasundhra Raje, had supported in writing his immigration plea in Britain and that he has a ‘family’ relationship with External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, whose husband and daughter had provided legal services, ‘free of cost’.
Raje, Modi said, had accompanied his wife to Portugal for her cancer treatment, two years ago. Raje became the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, for the second time, in December 2013. The comments of the former IPL commissioner assume significance because, they came hours after it was reported that, Raje had given a witness statement in August 2011 to British authorities supporting his case for immigration in Britain, which he has made his base. Raje’s purported witness statement was made public, earlier in the day, on behalf of the Modi camp, but later the Chief Minister said, that she, was not aware of this document. “Of course I know the family. I have always known them…(But) I do not know what documents they are talking about,” she told reporters in Jaipur.
In the interview Modi said, “My relationship with Vasundhara Raje goes back 30 years. That relationship is known to everybody. She is a close friend of the family and my wife for a long time…She openly agreed to be (to be a witness), but unfortunately by the time the case went to trial, she was already Chief Minister, so she did not come to become a witness. The statements she gave is all on records in the courts.” “Raje and Sushma supported me when my wife was sick,” he said.
“It was a family, a legal, whatever you may call it. We were very close. But the point is not that…I am very close to a lot of politicians, not only Mrs Swaraj…,” Modi said when asked about his relationship with the Foreign Minister. “My wife was being taken to Portugal by whom? By Mrs Vasundhara Raje. Nobody knows that, I am putting that on record now,” Modi said, adding she accompanied his wife Minal, in 2012 and 2013.
The surfacing of the ‘witness statement’ gave a new twist to the controversy surrounding Swaraj’s help to Modi to seek British travel documents. “I did ask her (Swaraj’s) help,” Modi said, adding that he would have made a similar plea to any other External Affairs minister in office. “I know Swaraj Kaushal (Sushma’s husband) for 20 years. He has been my advocate for 20 years…his daughter Bansuri had been my advocate for four years,” he said, adding that their services had been provided ‘free of cost’.
The witness statement came into circulation, just hours after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley backed Swaraj saying whatever she had done was in good faith and bona fide. The document had a confidentiality clause, in which Raje purportedly supported Modi’s case, but did not want it to be revealed to Indian authorities.
Swaraj found herself at the centre of a political firestorm, after the UK-based Sunday Times, reported a ‘leaked conversation’ between influential Labour Member of Parliament, Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration, Sarah Rapson, that cited Swaraj to facilitate travel documents for Lalit Modi.
The TV channel also quoted Modi, having said, that he was also helped by National Congress Party leaders Sharad Pawar and Praful Patel and Congress leader Rajiv Shukla. Shukla said he had not talked to Modi for three years while Pawar said he tried to convince the former IPL chief to return to India and face investigations.
To a question, Modi said, he was not travelling to India because of security concerns. Asked about his holiday in the famous Ibiza resort three days after the surgery of his wife, Modi said the family decided to celebrate because the ‘revolutionary treatment’ received at the Portugal medical centre that helped her, because the liver cancer she was suffering from, was in the final stage.
Modi said he had done no wrong and has always gone by the book and that he has paid all his dues. According to him, he has been taken to task by the previous United Progressive Alliance government and asserted that he was no ‘fugitive’. He also accused the UPA government of making him a target of ‘political vendetta’ in the aftermath of his tweets on Sunanda Pushkar’s sweet equity in Kerala Kochi Tuskers IPL team. His tweets saw the then MOS External Affairs and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, losing his ministerial job, following the controversy. Modi said Tharoor lost his job because he lied.