Activists and supporters of the Indian Youth Congress wear masks bearing images of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley (l), businessman Vijay Mallya (c) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi (r) as they protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party for allegedly allowing Mallya to leave the country in New Delhi, Sept. 14. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

New Delhi, Sep 14 (PTI) The war of words between the BJP and the Congress over the Vijay Mallya issue intensified Friday with the opposition party alleging Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “silence” was an admission of guilt and the ruling party questioning links between the fugitive tycoon and the Gandhi family.

Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley helped the liquor baron flee India and accused them of maintaining a “conspiratorial silence” about a “meeting” Jaitley had with the defaulter businessman on March 1, 2016.

Holding that Jaitley has lost the legal, ethical and moral right to continue as minister and must resign, he said the silence of the Union minister and Modi pointed at their admission of guilt.

Hitting back, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) media head Anil Baluni fired off eight questions to the Congress.

He asked if its president Rahul Gandhi and his mother and predecessor Sonia Gandhi did not fly free of cost in Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines in lieu of loans given to it.

It was the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government which “raised and protected” the fugitive tycoon, he said, claiming that Rahul Gandhi suffers from “ideological bankruptcy and does not know what he says, does and understands”.

“Why Rahul Gandhi does not answer these questions? Why his lips are sealed when faced with these burning questions. What can be a bigger evidence of corruption than the fact that it was the Congress government which raised and protected Mallya,” he said.

At his press conference, Surjewala asked why Modi was “afraid” to conduct a fair investigation in this matter.

“It shows that PM Modi is not just a part of this crime but the main culprit,” he said.

If Modi does not act, it will be proved that the ‘chowkidaar’ (watchman) is not just a ‘Bhaagidaar’ (partner) but is guilty of protecting a criminal, the Congress leader alleged.

“Multiple skeletons are tumbling out of the Modi government’s cupboard unravelling a sinister conspiracy and collusion of government agencies, including CBI, ED, SFIO and others in permitting Vijay Mallya to escape the clutches of law,” he told reporters.

In his statement, Baluni cited the then prime minister Manmohan Singh’s reported comments in 2011 that Kingfisher Airlines, now defunct, needed to be helped and asked if it was not true that the then finance minister P Chidambaram ignored rules to provide relief to the loss-making airline.

“Is it not true that in exchange for providing (bank) loans to Mallya the then UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and current Congress president Rahul Gandhi travelled free of cost in the airline’s business class,” he asked.

He also repeated several allegations the ruling party has been levelling at the Congress.

The two parties have been training guns at each other after Mallya claimed Wednesday in London that he had met Jaitley before leaving India.

The finance minister refuted his claim, saying he had never give him an appointment but the businessman misused his privilege as a member of Parliament to accost him there but he asked him to approach his banker.

Rahul Gandhi had accused Jaitley of colluding with a criminal and sought his resignation.