New Delhi: The political challenge for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) worsened on Tuesday.

Even as the Congress continued to mount political pressure for action against Union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj for alleged impropriety in office, the Times Now news channel reported that even Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje was similarly culpable for trying to help Lalit Modi, accused of foreign exchange violations, obtain immigration to the UK.

Significantly, while the BJP and the centre resolutely backed Swaraj, senior leaders of the party said that it would await details of the allegations against Raje before making any public comment.

“There is no reason why the party will not support Sushma Swaraj. Our stand is very clear. We are trying to get the details of the allegations against Vasundhara Raje," said a senior BJP leader, requesting anonymity.

Times Now claimed that it was in possession of Raje’s witness statement that supported Lalit Modi’s application for immigration. The channel said that the document didn’t have the signature of Raje and that it couldn’t vouch for the authenticity of the document.

Mint could not independently ascertain the allegation levelled by Times Now.

As support for Swaraj within the government and BJP grew, finance minister Arun Jaitley too backed Swaraj, claiming that she had not committed any impropriety.

Swaraj is facing allegations that she had assisted the former cricket administrator in securing travel documents to visit his ailing wife in Portugal, ignoring charges pending against him in India. Lalit Modi, a former commissioner of the Indian Premier League (IPL), fled to London in 2010 after Enforcement Directorate (ED) initiated investigations against him for suspected foreign exchange irregularities.

The Congress, seeking to corner the government, demanded that a special investigation team (SIT) be set up under the guidance of the Supreme Court to probe allegations against Swaraj.

“What has happened is scandalous and the Prime Minister has to speak.... We demand a thorough investigation into this affair," senior Congress leader and national spokesperson of the party, Anand Sharma, said on Tuesday at a press conference where he made the demand.

The sense within the BJP is that Swaraj did not commit any impropriety—she claims she helped Lalit Modi on humanitarian grounds—and that the Congress was only seeking to target the government using the issue.

“This is no longer about Sushma Swaraj alone. It is a political battle against the BJP and the Prime Minister. We will handle the issue just as political battles are fought. The Prime Minister and party president Amit Shah have backed Swaraj, so there is no question of going back. The Congress wants to take political mileage out of the issue but they will not succeed," said a second senior BJP leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Senior BJP leaders expect the Congress and other opposition parties to try and corner the government in the monsoon session of Parliament, which is likely to start in July. “What Sushma Swaraj has done by helping Lalit Modi is at best an oversight...or a wrong judgement. It is not as if the government has dropped charges against Lalit Modi and investigations have been called off. Lalit Modi continues to be an accused, the look-out notice is still valid, Enforcement Directorate is investigating the matter, the government has not helped him in anyway," the BJP leader cited above said.

Separately, Jaitley, addressing a press conference called to announce a special relief package for Jammu and Kashmir, clarified the BJP and the government were united in their support for Swaraj.

“All allegations are baseless. Sushma Swaraj has already clarified, party president Amit Shah has also given a statement. Our ministers take their own decisions, and the government is collectively responsible for the actions of the ministers. Enforcement Directorate is investigating cases against Lalit Modi, and showcause notices have been issued against him," Jaitley said.

Political analysts believe that the issue could snowball into the first political controversy for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

“This already seems like the first big political trouble for the NDA, more so because it has not come from outside like the Congress or any other opposition party, it has come from media reports. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi needs to contain all this because it comes with a background of factionalism, with a party lawmaker (Kirti Azad) pointing it out in public," Manisha Priyam, a Delhi-based political analyst, said. “During 1996, Lal Krishna Advani too resigned when his name came up in the Hawala scandal but then, the innuendo was of a financial impropriety. I still do not think there is ground enough for Swaraj to resign, but she will definitely have to wriggle out of it completely," Priyam added.

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