Image: Billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi with actress Nimrat Kaur. Photograph: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress on Thursday blamed each other for the Rs 11,400 crore fraud case involving the Punjab National Bank even as the latter called the scam's main accused Nirav Modi as "chhota Modi" sparking condemnation from the ruling party.
The rival parties also traded allegations over a picture of Nirav Modi with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a business delegation accompanying him to Davos at the World Economic Forum meet last month.
The Congress targeted the government over the scam allegedly involving billionaire jewellery designer Nirav Modi and accused it of doing nothing to stop "independent India's biggest bank fraud" despite being informed of it in July, 2016.
"Loot and escape" had become the hallmark of the government, the party said, equating the celebrity designer with liquor baron Vijay Mallya, former Indian Premier League chief Lalit Modi and other businessmen such as Rishi Agarwal who had fled the country after allegedly committing frauds worth crores of rupees.
Party president Rahul Gandhi led the charge, alleging that the National Democratic Alliance government looked the other way when Nirav Modi used his "clout" with the prime minister to slip out of the country.
"Guide to looting India by Nirav Modi--1. Hug PM Modi 2. Be seen with him in DAVOS. Use that clout to: A. Steal 12,000 crore B. Slip out of the country like Mallya, while the government looks the other way," Gandhi said on Twitter.
The Congress also released a picture of Nirav Modi with the business delegation accompanying the prime minister to Davos at the World Economic Forum meet last month.
Dubbing Nirav Modi "Chhota Modi two" and Lalit Modi "Chhota Modi one", Congress communications in-charge Randeep Surjewala asked if the billionaire jewellery designer had a tip-off that prompted him to leave the country.
"Billionaire Nirav Modi steals Rs 12,000 crore right under the nose of the Modi Government and flees the country. Ironically, Nirav Modi was later spotted with PM Modi in Davos," Surjewala said, adding, "Has it become the norm for letting people run away with public money? Who is responsible?"
Lashing out at the prime minister, he said, "This is the biggest bank loot scam of independent India and who permitted this scam to happen? Why did the prime minister not take any action despite knowing about it on July 26, 2016?"
Image: In Davos, Nirav Modi can be seen standing in the second row, fourth from left, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other Indian CEOs. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter
The BJP while declaring that no one irrespective of stature will be spared by the probe agencies, condemned the Congress' attack on the prime minister as "baseless".
The party fielded Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to counter allegations against the Modi government and he dubbed the Congress' reference of "chhota Modi" for Nirav Modi, as "derogatory, demeaning, shameful, utterly irresponsible and scandalous".
Official sources also pointed out that Nirav Modi was not part of prime minister's official delegation to Davos as being claimed by the Congress.
Asked at the press conference about the action taken by the Prime Minister's Office after Bengaluru resident Hari Prasad warned it in a letter in July 2016 against Nirav Modi and other accused, Prasad said it was acknowledged and what action different departments took will be conveyed later.
Seeking to turn the heat on the Congress, Prasad pointed out that the alleged fraud had started in 2011 when it was in power and questioned whose "blessings" were with Mehul Choksi, Nirav's business partner, as the income of Choksi's firm Gitanjali Gems doubled between 2011-13.
The fraud has been unearthed under our government and action is being taken, he said.
Prasad also said that Nirav was not part of the prime minister's delegation to Davos and had come to the Swiss town on his own. He joined a CII delegation for a group photograph with him, he said.
"I wish to deny this with full authority. No personal meeting (of Nirav) with the prime minister took place."
"Those living in glass houses, which are already broken, should not throw stones at us as the Modi government is working with full honesty..."
Attacking Rahul Gandhi, Prasad referred to a tweet by a disgruntled Congress leader and claimed that the Congress president had gone to attend an event organised by Choksi in 2013.
He claimed that the Congress' attack on the government was borne out of its "pain" over its electoral losses and it will lose to the BJP in Tripura as well.
He asked the Congress not to do photo politics- a reference to Nirav's presence in a group picture with the prime minister- and said his party also has "cozy" photos of its leaders with Choksi but it will not stoop to this low.
The Left and the Trinamool Congress attacked the government on the PNB fraud case and asked it to clarify how Nirav Modi was present in a group photo of Indian CEOs with the prime minister in Davos.
Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury questioned how Nirav Modi was allowed to escape the country.