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Indian tycoon declares ‘war’, rattles Modi govt

NEW DELHI: Pressure is growing on India’s foreign minister and a top member of the ruling party over help they gave to a disgraced cricket tycoon, as the first major scandal to touch Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government begins to threaten his reform agenda. Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has faced days of scrutiny for her ties to Lalit Modi, scion of an industrial family who almost singlehandedly turned the Indian Premier League into the world’s richest. “This is war,” Modi, who is not related to the prime minister, has declared in recent days from a hotel in Montenegro.

He has used Twitter to attack opponents, such as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and members of the opposition. Dissent bubbled up in Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday, with one member of parliament saying Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje were wrong to have helped the tycoon in his bid for British travel papers.

The opposition Congress party, voted out last year amid corruption scandals, yesterday warned of plans to disrupt parliament after it opens next month, unless Swaraj and Raje resign. The government hopes to pass major economic reforms during the session. Modi fled India for London when tax and financial crime authorities raided his premises in 2010 in a money laundering and tax evasion investigation.

He says his life was threatened by Mumbai mobsters. Swaraj says she met the British high commissioner in July 2014 to recommend that Modi be granted British travel papers, after his Indian passport was rescinded, and sent the same message to British Labour MP Keith Vaz. Swaraj, whose husband and daughter have worked as lawyers for Modi, said her intervention was humanitarian, because he needed to travel to help his ailing wife.

There has been no suggestion of financial wrongdoing by Swaraj, but opponents question the legality of her assistance. The foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment. In another development, Education Minister Smriti Irani’s academic record faces scrutiny after the Delhi high court agreed to hear a petition alleging that she lied about having a degree.

The court will hear the case in August. The dispute stems from Irani’s differing declarations to electoral authorities. In 2004, she said she had a BA degree, but in 2014, she said she had only studied the first year of a commerce degree. Congress has demanded that she, too, resign. —Reuters

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This article was published on 24/06/2015