A war of allegations and counter-allegations has broken out between the ruling BJP and the principal Opposition Congress over the Rs 11,400 crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam involving fugitive jeweller Nirav Modi, his uncle Mehul Choksi, and their firms and partners.

Pointing an accusing finger at the NDA government’s alleged complicity in letting the main accused of this scam, Nirav and Choksi, perpetrate “the country’s biggest bank loot scam” and then flee away from India early last month, the Congress has gunned for PM Modi in this regard, projecting his alleged proximity with Nirav and Choksi.

Hitting back on Saturday, the BJP said that the PNB-Nirav Modi scam occurred during the previous Congress-led UPA government and that the Modi government has been trying to unearth it and clean up the system. It accused the Congress of spreading lies to mislead the people.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, fielded by the BJP to defend the party and the government in the matter, said Nirav might have been able to escape from the country, but the Modi government was taking action against him.

“The original sin took place during the Congress regime. It multiplied, it took traction under the Congress regime,” she told a press conference.

Sitharaman alleged, “As always, the Congress party indulges in such scandalous affairs, misuses positions in government, tweaks system to help themselves, and quietly covers up everything that they do.”She charged that instead of explaining as to why the PNB scam occurred during the UPA regime, the Congress has been levelling allegations at the BJP over it.

Asked how could big offenders such as Vijay Mallya and now Nirav, Choksi and their family members escaped from the country during the Modi regime, she said, “They have fled but this doesn’t mean we will not catch them. But they are facing the heat. Investigation is happening.”

Sitharaman alleged that Congress president Rahul Gandhi attended a promotional event hosted by Nirav Modi. She also alleged that Nirav Modi’s Firestar Diamond International company has taken on lease a property of Adwait Holdings in Mumbai in which Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi’s wife is a director.

Singhvi rejected Sitharaman’s allegations as false and baseless, threatening to take legal action against her. “BJP/NDA’s cheap sense of politics has reached ludicrous proportions. Neither my wife, sons nor me have anything whatsoever to do with Gitanjali or Nirav Modi companies. Nirav Modi’s company was a tenant of a Kamla Mills property owned by Adwait Holdings in which my wife and sons are a director,” Singhvi said.

He said Adwait Holdings’s Parel property was rented by Nirav’s company whose tenancy ended in December 2017. “None of us have anything to do even remotely with Geetanjali (promoted by Choksi)…or any other business of Nirav Modi,” he claimed.

“Nirmala Sitharaman and her colleagues are liable to civil and criminal defamation for making ill considered, ignorant and patently false allegations,” Singhvi said.