9:03 am - Friday November 6, 2015

Didn’t Testify in Court: Vasundhara Raje’s Defense to Cite Legal Technicality

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To justify that top BJP leader Vasundhara Raje does not need to resign as Rajasthan Chief Minister, the party is likely to present an argument from her legal team that she changed her mind at the last minute about backing the immigration appeal of disgraced cricket magnate Lalit Modi.

“Nobody is tainted, please,” said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley last night, indicating his party continues to back the beleaguered Ms Raje.

In 2011, she signed a statement declaring the vast investigation against Mr Modi was “politically motivated” – the affidavit, provided to a UK court, was leaked this week, enabling the opposition Congress to amplify calls for her resignation for supporting a man wanted in multiple criminal cases in India. Sources confirm that Ms Raje has admitted to signing this testimony while in London.

But she has defended her case to the BJP’s top bosses by arguing that after Mr Modi persuaded her to sign the statement, she had a change of heart as exemplified by the fact that she did not testify for him in a UK court. Without her deposition, the incriminating affidavit amounts to only “a proposed witness statement… intent, but not action,” say sources who are weighing the merits of this line of defence. Ms Raje has also raised the issue of other politicians and “VIPs” whose names have not yet come into the public domain who testified in favour of Lalit Modi, asking why the focus is on her alone.

BJP sources say that the party will also underscore that Ms Raje cannot be faulted for financial transgressions.

But arguments like those are unlikely to tamp down the political controversy, something the BJP concedes privately. Ms Raje, in her affidavit, asked that her identity not be revealed to Indian authorities. Earlier this month, she said she was unaware of the document after Mr Modi outed it in a television interview.

For the BJP, Ms Raje’s status as an immensely powerful regional leader adds to the trickiness of how and whether to take any action against her. The party is also concerned that if it penalises Ms Raje, the opposition is likely to demand punishment for Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who has ceded that last year, she intervened to help Mr Modi get urgent travel papers from UK officials to travel to Portugal with his wife for her medical treatment.

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