Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned for over 11 hours by the Enforcement Directorate for the second consecutive day in the National Herald money-laundering probe and was again summoned on Wednesday, even as the opposition party continued its protests and sparred with the BJP, accusing it of conspiring to defame the Gandhi family through the ''false'' case.
Gandhi, 51, who was quizzed for over 10 hours a day earlier, arrived on Tuesday at the ED headquarters on APJ Abdul Kalam Road in central Delhi accompanied by his sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and his questioning began at 11:30 am.
After a session of about four hours, Gandhi took a break for about an hour at around 3:30 pm and went home. He rejoined the questioning and was still at the ED office close to midnight.
The former Congress president had left the federal agency's office at 11.10 pm on Monday after being questioned over multiple sessions and recording his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Earlier in the day, Gandhi joined senior party leaders at a "dharna" at the Congress headquarters, where the chief ministers of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, Ashok Gehlot and Bhupesh Baghel, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and party MPs were also present.
Hundreds of Congress leaders and supporters were detained outside the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road and around central Delhi as they tried to hold a protest against the ED action for the second day.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hit out at the opposition party, saying it is blocking roads to show its "leaders are above the law" and termed the protests "drama".
"When lawful action is taking place in a case of corruption, Congress is doing this drama and blocking roads....it shows the party considers its leaders above law," BJP's national spokesperson Sambit Patra said.
Union minister Anurag Thakur also took a swipe at Rahul Gandhi over his questioning by the ED after the Congress leader criticised prime minister's decision to provide 10 lakh government jobs in the next 18 months.
"I would only say to Rahul ji, you should first provide the right answers to the ED on the serious charges of corruption made against you," the BJP leader told reporters.
The Congress, however, accused the BJP of conspiring to defame the Gandhi family and the party by destroying their credibility through a "false" money laundering case being pursued by the Enforcement Directorate.
Congress general secretary and chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala claimed that the Centre is scared of Gandhi's politics as he is raising issues concerning the public.
"This entire exercise is illegal, unconstitutional, malicious and an exercise by a prime minister burning in the fire of political vendetta," Surjewala told a press conference in New Delhi.
The Congress had alleged that its leaders were manhandled by police during Monday's protest as they tried to walk to the ED office.
All approach roads leading to the agency office were made out of bounds on Tuesday for the public as prohibitory orders were imposed and barricades put up.
A large posse of police personnel including from the central anti-riot police force RAF and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were deployed.
K C Venugopal and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury were among scores of party leaders detained for violating prohibitory orders outside the heavily barricaded party office on Akbar road.
Lok Sabha MP Manickam Tagore said he and some other leaders, including P L Punia, were not allowed to enter the Congress office and were detained at the Mandir Marg police station.
Among the other leaders detained were Randeep Surjewala, Jairam Ramesh, Gaurav Gogoi, Deepender Singh Hooda, Ranjeet Ranjan, Jeby Mather, Imran Pratapgarhi, Youth Congress chief B V Srinivas and National Students' Union of India (NSUI) chief Neeraj Kundan, with some of them even roughed up.
Venugopal said this is nothing but "political vendetta" by the Modi government, which is trying to defame the Congress leadership through "false cases".
"They can imprison us but they cannot imprison the truth. The fight for the truth shall go on," he added.
Officials said Gandhi has been called again on June 15 as the questioning and the recording of a statement are taking a long time.
While agency sources informed that Gandhi recorded his statement and checked its transcript minutely, Congress leaders claimed that the investigators took multiple breaks during his questioning on Monday.
The investigating officer of the case, an assistant director-rank ED officer, is expected to continue the questioning related to the incorporation of the Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald newspaper, the loan given by the Congress to AJL and the fund transfer within the news media establishment.
The probe pertains to alleged financial irregularities in Young Indian Private Limited, promoted by the Congress, that owns National Herald.
The newspaper is published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and owned by Young Indian.
Gandhi's mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is currently admitted to a hospital due to Covid-related issues, has also been summoned by the agency for questioning in the case on June 23.
This is the first time that any member of the Congress' first family is being questioned in a criminal case. Priyanka Gandhi's husband Robert Vadra was questioned by the ED in a money-laundering case linked to an alleged land scam in Rajasthan a few years ago.
The Congress has accused the Centre of targeting opposition leaders by misusing investigative agencies.
Putting across its version, the party has said AJL, which was established in 1937, faced huge debts and the Congress, from 2002 to 2011, gave Rs 90 crore to the National Herald newspaper to pay the salaries of the journalists and staffers who worked there.
The ED questioned senior Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal in April as part of its probe. Kharge has claimed that he gave "evidence" to the agency during the recording of his statement.
The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the ED's investigation to understand the share-holding pattern, financial transactions and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an income-tax department probe against Young Indian on the basis of a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with Young Indian paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress.
In February last year, the Delhi high court issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response to Swamy's plea, seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety.
They, however, had contended in the high court that Swamy's plea was "misconceived and premature".
The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are the Gandhis' close aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda. Both have denied any wrongdoing.