Already facing severe criticism over its poor show in the elections and now fighting for the Leader of Opposition’s post in Lok Sabha, the Gandhis, the first family of Indian politics, is now facing new battles with the BJP in the form of notices being served to the family in the National Herald case.
Rediff.com contributor Anita Katyal reports on the growing confrontations between the government and the shaken up family.
It appears the Bharatiya Janata Party is in no mood to back down and mounting one attack after another against the Grand Old Party’s first family -- the Gandhis.
Amid the battle of the Congress’s demand for the position of Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, the National Democratic Alliance led by Narendra Modi has served notices to the Congress asking why its tax exemption should not be withdrawn for extending an unsecured loan of Rs 90 crore to a private company, the Assosicated Journals, which published the now-defunct National Herald.
This confrontation comes at a time when the Congress has locked horns with the government over the Leader of Opposition’s post in the Lok Sabha for Mallikarjuna Kharge. In fact, on Tuesday, Sonia submitted a formal representation signed by 60 party members to Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, pressing for the Leader of Opposition status.
And in both cases, Sonia Gandhi is in the fore fighting back. She realizes that even if the Congress is on strong legal footing in the National Herald case, the issue will have serious political implications for the party, which is already weakened by the multiple blows delivered by the BJP.
She has been quick to react to the notice, accusing the BJP-led NDA government of being politically vindictive and carrying out a witch hunt against the Gandhis. “This kind of political witch hunt will only help us fight harder and help us to come back faster,” said Sonia.
This was the second time in as many days that Sonia Gandhi had spoken out, a clear indication that she has taken it upon herself to battle the new government which, she believes, is deliberately targeting her and son Rahul Gandhi.
Meanwhile, denying charges of a witch hunt, senior BJP ministers pointed out that he Congress had clearly violated the law by extending a Rs 90 crore loan to a private firm Young Indian in which the Gandhis are “major stakeholders”. A senior BJP minister speaking to Rediff.com said, “How can a political party extend a loan to a commercial body?” Moreover, he added that properties like the Herald House on Bahadurshah Zafar Marg were leased to Associated Journals for publishing a newspaper. However, today, the paper is not being published and the premises haven been rented out.
The Income Tax notice flows from the case filed by Subramanian Swamy alleging that the Gandhis floated a company Young Indian essentially to acquire Associated Journals which published National Herald, which had shut down six years ago. Swamy has charged that the Gandhis used party funds to float a company and acquire properties worth crores owned by Associated Journals.
Stating that there is a prima facie case against them, a Delhi court has asked Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on August 7.
While the BJP is obviously enjoying the opposition party’s discomfiture, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi maintained the charges were baseless and that the party will respond soon to the notice.
Regarding the court summons to the Gandhis, the Congress is planning to move the High Court to exempt them from a personal appearance.
Senior Congress leaders also tried to explain there was no criminality involved as the loan had been given by the Congress to a firm, which had been registered as non-profit company.
“Since no profits were to be made and there was no commercial activity, who would have benefited from the money,” former law minister Veerappa Moily told Rediff.com, insisting that the Congress had a strong legal case.
Another senior party leader explained that the loan extended to Young Indian was more in the nature of an ”internal arrangement” as the National Herald and other Associated Journals publications were essentially espousing the same ideals and objectives as the Congress. “Bailing out National Herald was tantamount to pursuing our political goals,” he remarked.
When this issue first surfaced in 2012, the Congress had put out a formal statement in which they had rejected Swamy’s charges. AICC general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi had said the Congress’s objective is the well-being and advancement of the people of India and the establishment in India, by peaceful and constitutional means of a social state based on Parliamentary democracy in which there is equality of opportunity and of political, economic and social rights and which aims at world peace and fellowship.
”In furtherance of its object and its political activities, it is a matter of pride for the Indian National Congress that it has supported The Associated Journals Limited, publisher of the National Herald and other newspapers, founded by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937, which have played a role in our freedom movement.”