Opposition parties, on Wednesday, latched on to Vijay Mallya's statement in which he claimed that he had met Arun Jaitley before leaving India, and demanded a probe into the fugitive liquor baron's statement, which was rubbished by the finance minister as "factually false".
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi should immediately order an independent probe into Vijay Mallya's "extremely serious allegations" and Arun Jaitley should step down while the investigation will be carried out.
Given Vijay Mallya's extremely serious allegations in London today, the PM should immediately order an independent probe into the matter. Arun Jaitley should step down as FInance Minister while this probe is underway.- Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 12, 2018
The claim made by Vijay Mallya, who is facing charges of fraud and money laundering amounting to Rs 9,000 crore, has triggered a political storm, with the Congress is saying that the government must explain how and why Mr Mallya was allowed to leave India.
Arun Jaitley, however, said he never gave Vijay Mallya an appointment after becoming a minister in 2014, but the liquor baron misused his position as a member of parliament to approach him once in Parliament.
The statement of Vijay Mallaya that he met me & offered settlement is factually false in as much as it does not reflect truth. Since 2014, I have never given him any appointment to meet me and the question of his having met me does not arise.- Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) September 12, 2018
Since he was a Member of Rajya Sabha and he occasionally attended the House, he misused that privilege on one occasion, having been fully briefed about his earlier "bluff offers", I curtly told him "there was no point talking to me and he must make offers to his bankers."- Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) September 12, 2018
I did not even receive the papers that he was holding in his hand. Besides this one sentence exchange where he misused his privilege as a RS Member to further his commercial interest as a bank debtor, there is no question of my having ever given him an appointment to meet me.- Arun Jaitley (@arunjaitley) September 12, 2018
Soon after Mr Jaitley's rebuttal, Vijay Mallya appeared to tone down the seriousness of his claim, saying it was not a "formal meeting" and he only "happened to meet" the minister. Vijay Mallya also said he was not "tipped off" by anyone to flee the country.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, too, described as "absolutely shocking" the revelation by Vijay Mallya and asked, "Why did the finance minister hide this information till now?"
Why did the Finance Minister hide this information till now? https://t.co/KSR13ODOQx- Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) September 12, 2018
"Absolutely shocking. PM Modi meets Neerav Modi before he flees the country. FM meets Vijay Mallya before he flees India. What transpired in these meetings? People want to know," Mr Kejriwal said on Twitter.
PM Modi meets Neerav Modi before he flees the country. FM meets Vijay Mallya before he flees India. What transpired in these meetings? People want to know.- Arvind Kejriwal (@ArvindKejriwal) September 12, 2018
Former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, a former union finance minister who has been critical of Mr Jaitley and his handling of the finance ministry, said the entire BJP leadership, not just the finance minister, must come clean on its ties with Vijay Mallya.
Not only the finance minister, the entire BJP must come clean on its relations with Vijay Mallya.- Yashwant Sinha (@YashwantSinha) September 12, 2018
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the government was "fully complicit" in the flight of Mr Mallya and Punjab National Bank fraud accused Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi from India.
"Everybody was complacent and everybody was aware... Whether it was - a casual meeting or a structured meeting. We need proper disclosures, full inquiries on this," he said.
Mr Singhvi said the moot question remains why was no action taken before Vijay Mallya fled the country.
He said Vijay Mallya's claim is a vindication of the Congress's stand that the government always knew about the fleeing defaulters. He said India wants to know what transpired during the meeting between Mr Mallya and Mr Jaitley.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said Vijay Mallya's escape reconfirmed how the Modi government "enables big defaulters to loot public money and scoot".
"The fundamental point is how he got away despite 'lookout notices'?" Mr Yechury tweeted while mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi by tagging a picture of him performing yoga by resting on a stone and facing the sky.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav said the entire NDA government was "hand in glove" with scamsters and absconders. "They hatched a plot to loot hundreds of thousands of crores. PM and FM must respond on this," Mr Yadav said in a tweet.
Entire Modi government is hand in glove with scamsters & absconders. They hatched a plot to loot hundreds of thousands of Crores. PM & FM must respond on this. https://t.co/uDuby8c5li- Tejashwi Yadav (@yadavtejashwi) September 12, 2018
Terming Vijay Mallya's offer to settle overdue loans of more than Rs 9,000 crore to his now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines as "bluff offers", Mr Jaitley said he did not even take the papers the liquor baron was carrying during that brief encounter.
Mr Mallya, 62, is fighting numerous lawsuits in the UK and in India over fraud and money-laundering allegations as well as an extradition to India. "I left because I had a scheduled meeting in Geneva. I met the Finance Minister before I left, repeated my offer to settle with the banks. That is the truth," he told reporters outside a London court hearing a case for his extradition.
The verdict in Vijay Mallya's extradition case will be announced on December 10.
The Congress also claimed on its official Twitter handle that Vijay Mallya met Arun Jaitley "several times" before escaping the country to discuss a settlement plan. "In spite of this, the BJP government allowed him to flee with thousands of crores debt. Do we need anymore proof that this govt. is in the pocket of crony capitalists."
Vijay Mallya met FM @arunjaitley several times before escaping the country to discuss a settlement plan, inspite of this the BJP govt. allowed him to flee with thousands of crores debt. Do we need anymore proof that this govt. is in the pocket of crony capitalists.- Congress (@INCIndia) September 12, 2018
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Vijay Mallya's revelation shows that the BJP is running "a travel, tour and immigration agency for looters to settle abroad".
After Mallya reveals his 'consultation meetings' before his smooth escape, with Fiscal Mismanagement Blog Minister Sh Jaitley - one thing is clear - BJP is running "tour travels & immigration" agency for "loot scoot & settle abroad" brigade. https://t.co/n39NfDw0rS- Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) September 12, 2018
"Vijay Mallya left India with the country's money after a farewell from Arun Jaitley. Chowkidaar nahin, Bhagidaar hai (Not a watchman, but a partner)," he tweeted in Hindi.