Sushma Swaraj: India uproar over minister's 'impropriety'

Sushma Swaraj Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sushma Swaraj has said her motive in helping Lalit Modi was humanitarian

Media in India say Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj's decision to help a controversial Indian businessman living in the UK is the first "charge of impropriety" against the government.

Ms Swaraj has denied abusing her position to persuade Britain to give preferential treatment to Lalit Modi.

Mr Modi is the founder of the IPL, the world's richest cricket tournament.

The Indian cricket board has banned him for life over corruption allegations, which he denies.

In a series of tweets, Ms Swaraj admitted asking the British high commissioner in Delhi and a British MP, Keith Vaz, to help Mr Modi acquire papers to travel from London to Portugal.

But she said her motive was humanitarian, as Mr Modi's wife was undergoing cancer surgery there.

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Mr Modi, who now lives in London, has always denied allegations against him in the past.

And in August, an Indian court ruled that his passport should be restored. But he is unlikely to return to India where he could face charges.

India's main opposition Congress party has demanded that Ms Swaraj should resign on moral grounds as it is a "serious matter".

'Humanitarian issue'

But the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, of which Ms Swaraj is a member, has defended her and said that the party was standing by her.

"There is no need to make noise as the party doesn't look at this as a propriety issue but purely as a humanitarian one," party chief Amit Shah said.

The Times of India said the disclosure involving Ms Swaraj had "interrupted" the BJP's "celebrations at having a year of scam-free government", adding that it was the "first charge of impropriety against the government".

Writing in, political analyst Sheela Bhatt echoed a similar sentiment.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Modi, who lives in London, has always denied any wrongdoing

The BJP's decision to "support a cabinet minister who has committed an impropriety such as in this case, will cost the government, which will now not look only weaker on the issue of keeping high standards of legal and moral propriety but the minister will also be more vulnerable, not only from within but also from outside", she wrote.

First crisis of 'impropriety' for Modi government?, headlined the DNA newspaper.

"At a time when the Modi government is focused to act on bringing back black money stashed abroad, the revelations that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had facilitated travel papers for the former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi have overshadowed BJP's claims of a taint-free rule since it assumed office a year ago," the newspaper said.

The Indian Express said Ms Swaraj had found herself "at the centre of a political firestorm... after the UK-based Sunday Times reported a 'leaked conversation' between influential Labour MP Keith Vaz and head of UK Visas and Immigration Sarah Rapson that cited Ms Swaraj to facilitate travel documents for former IPL boss Lalit Modi".

The Firstpost described the controversy as the "first ethics scandal" of the ruling government.

The website said Ms Swaraj's actions "will raise several uncomfortable questions".

"Prime among them is that Lalit Modi - wanted for questioning by the Indian government - had direct access to India's external affairs minister and could ask her for a private favour."

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