The government on Wednesday set up an inter-ministerial panel to probe alleged violations of laws relating to money laundering, income tax and foreign contributions by three trusts, including the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, linked to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
The Congress termed the move a 'blind witch-hunt' and said it would not be intimidated while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said the decision is a 'natural' outcome of information in the public domain.
The three trusts to be investigated are the RGF, the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust and the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. While the first two trusts are headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, it is not immediately known who chairs the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust.
A home ministry spokesperson said a special director from the Enforcement Directorate will head the committee, which is also likely to comprise officials from the Central Bureau of Investigation, Income Tax department and home ministry.
The decision to constitute the committee was taken about a fortnight after the BJP said the RGF had received funds from the Chinese Embassy.
The allegation came amid the stand-off between the Indian Army and China's People's Liberation Army in Ladakh.
'The Ministry of Home Affairs has set up an inter-ministerial committee to coordinate investigations into violation of various legal provisions of PMLA, Income Tax Act, FCRA etc., by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust and Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust. Special Director of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) will head the committee,' the home ministry said.
The Prevention of Money Laundering Act deals with cases related to money laundering and the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) deals with acceptance and utilisation of foreign contributions.
The home ministry has not yet disclosed the terms of reference of the committee.
Reacting to the move, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said those who fight for the truth have no price and cannot be intimidated.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party and its leadership will 'not be intimidated by the cowardly acts and blind witch-hunt by a panicked Modi government'.
His colleague Abhishek Manu Singhvi added that there is nothing to fear and every question will be answered.
"The Rajiv Gandhi Foundation has nothing to add or fear because you have all the 'yantras and tantras' and you can ask every question at every inquiry. We are here as law-abiding persons to answer.
"But, you need to be exposed fully, in that you don't ever ask these questions of many holy cows," he said.
Rejecting charges that the move was politically motivated, BJP general secretary P Muralidhar Rao said the Central government's order of a probe into transactions of trusts linked to the Nehru-Gandhi family is a 'natural' outcome of information brought out recently in the public domain.
"These transactions are in public domain...our government is committed to transparency. It is natural to investigate these transactions after so much information was recently brought out in public domain," he said, and advised the Congress party to cooperate with the investigation.
Launching an attack against the Congress party over the RGF receiving funds from the Chinese Embassy a few years ago, Union Minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad had questioned whether it was a 'bribe' for lobbying for a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and China.
Prasad took on the opposition party after BJP president J P Nadda last month raised the issue in a virtual rally for party workers in Madhya Pradesh.
The RGF was set up in 1991 with the aim of realising 'the vision of the former prime minister of a modern India, secular, and progressive; a country that enshrines the democratic principle of equality and blends progress with rich cultural traditions'.
The foundation is chaired by Sonia Gandhi. The other trustees include former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi, P Chidambaram as well as former deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia, former journalist Suman Dubey, former Rajya Sabha member Ashok Ganguly and industrialist Sanjiv Goenka.
The Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT) was established in 2002 to 'address the development needs of the underprivileged of the country, especially the rural poor' and works in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
While Sonia Gandhi is chairperson, the other members are Rahul Gandhi, Ashok Ganguly and former president of Chartered Accountants of India Bansi Mehta. Its CEO is Magsaysay Award winner Deep Joshi.