New Delhi: Pressure has begun to mount for the ouster of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje after the emergence of a signed copy of her secret ‘witness statement’ backing Lalit Modi’s immigration application in the United Kingdom in 2011. The former commissioner of the Indian Premier League cricket tournament was already a fugitive in the eyes of Indian investigative agencies at the time.
A stunned Bharatiya Janata Party, which had strongly backed Raje when an unsigned copy of the statement first appeared in the media 10 days ago, retreated into a huddle on Wednesday evening with junior spokespersons left floundering when asked by reporters and television anchors for an explanation of why the senior leader had backed Lalit Modi in this manner. Senior party leader and Union transport minister Nitin Gadkari who had insisted on June 22 that Vasundhara ji legally, logically, ethically is completely correct. There is no fault of hers anywhere,” chose not to repeat his remarks.
The party’s Rajasthan unit convened a hurried press conference in Jaipur with state president Ashok Parnami saying the BJP could not comment on the matter “until the context in which Raje’s signatures were given is clear.” Crucially, Parnami did not contest the authenticity of the 7-page signed document, in which Raje strongly defended Lalit Modi against accusations of criminal wrongdoing and insisted the cases against him “were instigated with the active or tacit support of the ruling Congress party in Rajasthan, as a means of continuing the smear campaign against Lalit and by association, me.”
Raje’s statement went on to say her close connections with Lalit Modi “resulted in huge animosity towards him from the Congress party both at the Rajasthan and the national levels.”
Raje signs off her witness statement by asserting that she has “absolutely no doubt that the broad, full frontal attack that Lalit is currently facing in India is politically motivated.”
Apart from backing a ‘fugitive’ and insisting on secrecy, Raje’s 2011 statement is embarrassing to the BJP today because of her fulsome defence of Lalit Modi, a man whom the Narendra Modi government would not like to be seen defending. Indeed, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said on June 16 that show cause notices have been issued in 15 out of the 16 investigations being conducted by the Enforcement Directorate into the affairs of Lalit Modi. “This is the information I have. One is still under investigation,” he added.
Stepping up its offensive against Raje, who had claimed she did not recall having signed such a document, the Congress accused her of “repeatedly lying” and demanded her immediate resignation for having backed a “fugitive”.
“The curtains are off, the secret is out. The document signed by Vasundhara Raje dated August 18, 2011 supporting his immigration case before the British government is out. When the issue came out first, she feigned ignorance and then said she does not remember,” senior party leader Jairam Ramesh told reporters at the AICC briefing.
In the witness statement Raje wrote that she was agreeing to become a witness to the former IPL czar’s immigration application on the express condition that her role be kept a secret from the “Indian authorities.”
At the time, Raje was leader of the opposition in the Rajasthan assembly, a constitutional position.
“The BJP has always maintained that if papers are produced with her signature, then she is culpable. There is no need of anymore evidence, Vasundhara Raje stands thoroughly exposed,” Ramesh said.
Ramesh said the Congress seeks her immediate resignation as she has broken four laws – the Indian Penal Code, the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, and the Passport Act, while batting for a “bhagora” (fugitive).
Displaying the seven-page document, he said, “This has never happened in independent India before where a former Chief Minister and Leader of Opposition has batted for a fugitive”.
There was no official confirmation from the BJP about reports that it has sought an explanation from Raje and despatched a two-member team headed by Union Health Minister JP Nadda to Rajasthan.
With inputs from PTI