New Delhi: The war of words between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Vijay Mallya’s statement claiming that he met the Finance Minister before leaving India does not seem to end anytime soon. While on one hand, the grand old party accused the finance minister of lying to hide the “free passage” he allegedly gave to the defaulter aviation tycoon to flee to London, the ruling party, on the other, claimed that the Gandhi family tried to salvage the sinking Kingfisher Airlines with a “sweet deal”.

The Congress chief, at a press conference on Thursday trained guns on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. He presented a “proof” in the form of party leader PL Punia, who claimed to have seen Arun Jaitley having “an elaborate 15-20 minute meeting” with Mallya on March 1, 2016, a day before the businessman left India. (ALSO READ – Shehzad Poonawalla Accuses Rahul Gandhi of Meeting Nirav Modi, Challenges Him to Undergo Lie Detector Test)

“Mr Vijay Mallya was given free passage out of the country by the finance minister and the finance minister has clearly said the criminal told him that he is going to run away. Well, why did you let him run away? Why did you not stop him because you were colluding with him?” Gandhi alleged and challenged Jaitley to get CCTV footage of March 1. He also demanded immediate resignation of Jaitley and an independent probe into the whole affair.

Meanwhile, the BJP lined up party big guns with counter-allegations about how Mallya was helped by the UPA regime to keep his debt-ridden aviation venture afloat. The party alleged it was the previous UPA government that gave a “sweet deal” to Mallya as if it was the Gandhi family that proxy-owned the airline.

Kingfisher ultimately had to be grounded in October 2012 under a burden of over Rs 9,000 crore of unpaid loans and several other liabilities including defaults on employee salaries and other payments.

In the political war of words, maverick BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also got into fray. He raised questions on how the lookout notice against the absconding businessman got diluted that eventually allowed him to flee the country.

Joining BJP’s counter-offensive, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked whether Gandhi and Mallya were “working in tandem” and claimed the liquor baron had allegedly benefitted from bank facilities during the UPA government.

Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said Mallya was a criminal and his words could not be taken seriously and it was Gandhi who should resign from all posts. He alleged banks were pressured by the UPA regime to sanction loans to Mallya due to the Gandhi family’s “relations” with him.

Gandhi, who had last night also sought Jaitley’s resignation after Mallya dropped his bombshell of the sensational claim, alleged the finance minister had “colluded with the criminal” and allowed him to escape from the country.
“Mr Jaitley is lying, the government is lying on Rafale and the government is lying on Vijay Mallya. A meeting was held with Mr Arun Jaitley and Vijay Mallya. The logistics of Mr Mallya leaving the country were discussed in that meeting,” Gandhi told reporters.

The BJP hit back with equal ferocity, with its spokesperson Sambit Patra, flashing a bunch of documents at a press conference and telling reporters there is a series of letters between the RBI and main lender SBI that show “how the previous dispensation under Sonia Gandhi was biased, partial and kept all norms and regulations at bay to give a sweet deal to Kingfisher.”

“Sometimes it seems the airline was not owned by Mallya, but by the Gandhi family in proxy,” Patra said.

62-year-old Mallya, who was once listed on Forbes’ list of billionaires and was famously known as ‘King of Good Times’ owing to his flashy lifestyle, said in London Wednesday he was not “tipped off” by anyone and he had “happened to meet” Jaitley in Parliament — a statement seen as a dilution from his earlier “innocent statement” that he had met the finance minister before leaving India and had told him about his settlement offer for banks.
Seeking to shift the blame, the BJP leaders including top union ministers alleged many Congress leaders had tried to save Mallya and his sinking business empire.

(Inputs from PTI)