New Delhi: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders looked guarded on Saturday as Union minister Smriti Irani braved a political storm, with the Congress accusing her daughter of running an “illegal” bar in Goa. She rebutted the allegations, saying that her daughter, Zoish, is just a college student and threatened to take the accusers “to the court of law and the people”.
While the BJP held an official press conference, many leaders chose to remain silent. There was no official reaction from the government.
Some, like Delhi BJP leader Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga came to her defence on Twitter. Vanathi Srinivasan, National President, BJP Mahila Morcha, too, tweeted that the allegations were “absolutely unacceptable”.
BJP sources asserted that the party stood by her. A senior BJP leader said that Irani has already “defended” herself and the party is monitoring the situation. Another leader, Sunil Deodhar, just tweeted the press conference of the BJP that Irani addressed from her official residence Saturday.
“The documents don’t mention her daughter’s name. Even if she is linked with the restaurant, she has not done anything illegal. There have been cases where the person under whose name the license is taken passes away and then it is transferred. The documents don’t prove anything,” said a party leader.
“Congress just wants to target her because she is taking on the Gandhis,” he added.
However, within the party, too, some are of the view that the videos and Instagram reports that have emerged — shared by the Congress — should have been taken into account before addressing the press.
“The minister has not done anything wrong and hence there is no question of her resignation. As far as this particular incident is concerned, she will tackle it,” said another BJP leader.
Senior Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Pawan Khera and Netta D’Souza held a press conference Saturday and demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi sack Irani over the allegations of her daughter running an “illegal bar”.
The allegations were denied by Irani who also held a press conference and said her daughter was being targeted due to her “mother’s vocal stand on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi’s Rs 5,000-crore loot in the National Herald case”.
“The allegation that my daughter runs an illegal bar is malicious. It is done at the directions of the Congress leadership because I had the audacity to hold a press conference and question Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for the Rs 5,000 crore loot of the Indian treasury,” she said.
In a statement, Zoish’s lawyer, Kirat Nagra, said that there are various “erroneous, frivolous, malicious and defamatory social media posts being made by various vested quarters trying to settle political scores with our client’s mother, the renowned politician Smriti Irani, each of which are predicated on blatant falsities”.
Nagra also called the matter a “non-issue” and said: “It is unfortunate that they have resorted to spreading false propaganda only to sensationalise a non-issue without ascertaining true facts….”
‘Fake charges, malicious campaign’
The Congress in its press conference had termed the matter as “very serious” and shared the show cause notice that was served to the bar. It also alleged that the officer who gave the notice was being transferred owing to pressure from Goa authorities.
Soon after Irani denied the charges, Pawan Khera said in a tweet: “Which Smriti Zubin Irani is lying? The one who on 14 April 2022 said she was proud of her daughter’s restaurant or the one who today says her daughter has nothing to do with the Silly Souls Bar & Cafe?”
Which Smriti Zubin Irani is lying? The one who on 14th April 2022 said she was proud of her daughter’s restaurant or the one who today says her daughter has nothing to do with the Silly Souls Bar & Cafe? https://t.co/pdG7FxYNWW
— Pawan Khera 🇮🇳 (@Pawankhera) July 23, 2022
“The licence by Smriti Irani’s daughter is in the name of a person who died in May 2021. The licence was taken in June 2022 in Goa. However, the person in whose name the licence is, had died 13 months ago. This is completely illegal,” Khera said at the press conference.
Pointing to Goa rules, Khera had said during the press conference that in the state, a restaurant can get only one bar licence, but this restaurant had got two bar licences.
Terming it a “malicious campaign”, Irani said: “Two middle-aged men dared to assassinate the character of an 18-year-old child. Her only fault is that her mother fought elections against Rahul Gandhi from Amethi in 2014 and 2019,” she added.
Questioning the RTI that the Congress had shared, Irani said: “Jairam Ramesh said that he is accusing my daughter on the basis of an RTI. I ask Jairam Ramesh whether my daughter’s name is there in that RTI application. Is my daughter’s name in the answer?”.
Khera also shared clips of an interview in which her daughter is being introduced as the owner of the restaurant.
In another report by Moneycontrol.com, shared by the Congress spokesperson, Irani has been shown sharing on her Instagram how ‘proud’ she is of her daughter. The article reads: “Smriti Irani re-posted a positive review that her daughter’s restaurant received”.
Irani today said her daughter is just a student and has nothing to do with the restaurant.
“The girl is a first-year college student. She is not in politics. She is a normal college student. But the Congress spokesperson alleged that the girl is running an illegal bar. I want to tell Pawan Khera that my 18-year-old daughter is a college student, my daughter doesn’t run any bar,” she said.
“The Congress spokespersons said that I should answer but I will now seek answers in the court of law and in the court of people,” added the minister.
According to sources, the Congress will take up the matter in Parliament Monday.
(With agency inputs)
(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)