Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has come under fire after it was revealed on Sunday that she had helped controversial former Indian Premier League (IPL) Commissioner Lalit Modi obtain an emergency travel document last year to visit his cancer-stricken wife.
A report by India’s Times Now channel on Sunday said that Mrs Swaraj had written to British Labour MP Keith Vaz, asking him to help arrange for the documents for Mr Modi in July 2014 when Mr Modi was living in self-imposed exile in London due to what he claimed were threats to his life due to the IPL match-fixing scandal.
At the time, Mr Modi had had his Indian passport revoked.
Responding to the Times Now story, Mrs Swaraj took to her Twitter account to explain what occurred.
She confirmed that Mr Modi had spoken to her to inform her that his wife was suffering from Cancer and was set to undergo an operation in Portugal on 4th August and that he had to be present at the hospital to sign the consent papers.
Mr Modi had also revealed that he had applied for a travel document to the British government months earlier but his application had been put on hold after the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh had written to UK authorities saying any attempt to provide Mr Modi with travel documents would “spoil India-UK relations”.
Mr Swaraj said she had subsequently written to Mr Vaz on “humanitarian grounds” asking him to do “what was legal” to allow Mr Modi to travel to Portugal.
According to Times Now, Mrs Swaraj lawyer husband Swaraj Kaushal had “encouraged” his wife to pursue the case on behalf of Mr Modi in return for obtaining “favours at different levels” from Mr Modi.
On Sunday, Mrs Swaraj rejected opposition demands to resign insisting she had done nothing wrong and reiterating that she had acted on humanitarian grounds.
Her party also stood by her with Home Minister Rajnath Singh saying that the government stands by her.
Mrs Swaraj’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah said: “Sushmaji has herself clarified. The matter is clear. Lalit Modi had said his wife is suffering from cancer and sought help. She (Swaraj) said if British rules permit, then he should be helped. There is no need for any uproar. There is no issue of moral grounds”.
Last week, Mr Vaz too was forced to deny any “conflict of interest” after his role in the saga was revealed by the Sunday Times.
Mr Vaz was reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards after he wrote to the Director General of Immigration, Sarah Rapson, in support of Mr Modi’s application for the travel document.
At the time, Mr Vaz was chairperson of the powerful Home Affairs Select Committee which oversees affairs at the Home Office. Mr Vaz subsequently failed to disclose his support of Mr Modi’s application when Ms Rapson appeared before the Committee on an unrelated matter.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has written to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, asking Mr Vaz be investigated for what he alleges is a breach of the MP’s code of conduct.
Mr Vaz however, insisted there was no conflict of interest as he had “no personal interest in this case and received no benefit from it”.
Mr Modi was granted an emergency travel certificate in early August after a lengthy legal battle with the Home Office.
Mr Vaz said he “encouraged” people to bring to his and the committee’s attention examples of problems with the immigration system.
In a statement, said: “In this case it was the fact that his wife had cancer and he had been waiting four years for a travel document and this is a problem that we have pursued for some time, why is it that people wait four years for a travel document?”
He added: “In the past year, over 270 people living outside my constituency have contacted me in my then capacity as chair of the home affairs select committee.
“A huge volume of cases have reached my office as a result of Committee Work, and there is a duty to deal with these cases in a courteous and helpful manner.
“If I am contacted by an individual from outside my constituency I immediately inform the constituency MP. I may, depending on the urgency of a case or whether it is in the public interest to do so, also write to the head of the service.’