New Delhi, December 8, 2015
A full-scale war of words broke out Tuesday between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, hours after a Delhi Court asked the main opposition party's president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on December 19.
National Herald case: Absolute case of 'political vendetta' by Govt., says Rahul
A full-scale war of words broke out today between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), hours after a Delhi Court asked the main opposition party's president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi to appear before it on December 19.
Ms. Gandhi, her son and four others will have to answer charges that they illegally acquired control of property worth Rs 2000 crore belonging to the now-defunct National Herald newspaper through a Section 25 company in which they hold a majority of the shares.
The Congress alleged that the case, based on a criminal complaint filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, was an instance of political vendetta.
"I am the daughter-in-law of (former Prime Minister) Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anythng or anyone," Ms Gandhi told journalists in Parliament House.
Asked if she thought it was a case of political vendetta, Ms Gandhi told journalists in Parliament House that she would leave it to the media to judge.
Mr. Gandhi, who was on a visit to flood-affected areas of Puducherry, told reporters that it was a case of political vendetta. "This is the way the Central government tries to silence me and stop me from asking questions. It will not happen and I will continue to ask questions and put pressure on the government."
"They will do what they have to do. I will do what I have to do. They can make any allegation against me. Let them do whatever they want to do.
"My job is to to act as the opposition. I am not going to run away, I am not going to step back even one inch. Let them do what they want to do," he said.
Congress members raised slogans and stalled proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, forcing repeated adjournments and finally for the day.
The BJP denied any political motives and said Dr. Swamy had filed a private complaint on the basis of which the court had issued summons against the accused.
"The government had nothing to do with it. The High Court has dismissed their case and asked them to go and face trial. Nobody in this country has immunity from law," Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.
The Gandhis and the other four accused were supposed to appear before the trial court today after the Delhi High Court yesterday refused to cancel the summons issued by the lower court to them as well as other accused persons in the case.
Congress leader and senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who represented them, told the court that all the accused persons were "extremely keen, ready and willing" to appear before it at the earliest possible date.
He said he was seeking exemption for their appearance today because the High Court's orders were received only yesterday evening and that they had not had the time to study the judgement because Parliament is in session and for other reasons, including prior engagements.
The court directed the Gandhis and the others to appear before it at 3 pm on December 19.
"All the accused persons, barring one who is in the United States, will certainly be present on the 19th," Mr Singhvi told journalists outside the court later. He said the person in the US would also make every effort to remain present, subject to logistics and exigencies.
Mr Singhvi said that, while each of the accused had the highest regard for the court, the accused would appeal against the Delhi High Court order.
He said the case was an example of "political vendetta at its worst", pointing out that Dr. Swamy was a senior member of the central committee of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He cited the cases against other Congress leaders such as Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and said these were all born out of political malice.
"The ruling party is using proxy litigation to target Congress leaders," Mr. Singhvi said.
Apart from the Gandhis, the other accused in the case are Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey, a family friend of the Gandhis, and technocrat Sam Pitroda.
Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Vora, Mr. Fernandes, Mr. Dubey and Mr Pitroda are directors of AJL, while all six are directors of YIL.
The National Herald was set up in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru, who went on to become India's first Prime Minister.
The trial court had issued summons against the Gandhis and other accused on a criminal complaint filed by Dr. Swamy.
The crux of the complaint is that the Congress had given a loan of Rs. 90 crore to Associated Journals Limited (AJL), the publishers of National Herald. On December 28, 2010, AJL had assigned this debt to Young Indian Ltd (YIL), a section 25 charitable company, for Rs. 50 lakh. The newspaper ceased publication in 2008 but has buildings in prime locations in Delhi and other cities.
The fresh round of allegations between the Congress and the BJP has raised doubts about the chances of important legislation like the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, seen as one of the important measures of economic reform, being passed in the current session of Parliament.
The Government does not have the numbers to get the legislation through the Rajya Sabha and needs the support of the Congress to get the constitutional amendment passed in it.
Congress leader Kapil Sibal told journalists at the party's headquarters that the BJP had, in the last year, been targeting the party's leaders.
"Since they have no idea how to govern the country they want to distract the attention of people from their promise of good governance," he said.
"They have targeted Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and our leaders Virbhadra Singh, who was accosted during his daughter’s wedding, Shankarsinh Vaghela, Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot. They have filed sedition cases against young people in Gujarat and are targeting West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar," he said.
Mr Sibal said the Congress' decision to give a loan to Associated Journals Ltd cannot be described as a criminal act.
"Can I ask the BJP how it spends its money? Or, how a political party spends its money? Is it a legal matter? Does it have anything to do with criminality? BJP invested in mutual funds and got dividends from it and claimed it as a business expense in their IT returns. The BJP ran a newspaper and sought a business loss expense on its returns, can we question it?" he asked, asserting that no provision in law had been breached. Similarly, he said that
assigning of a loan was not a criminal offence.
"Young India is a Section 25 Company. It is a charitable company. If any assets are sold, then the proceeds will not go to any shareholder of Young India. They can’t get any money. No one has yet leveled an accusation that Ms. Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi took even one paisa from AJL. No part of the income has come to Young India. What is the criminality?" he said.
Mr. Singhvi, who was also present, said the party had nothing to fear, and nothing to hide.
"The National Herald is the symbol of Congress thinking. It is owned by AJL, whose senior office bearers are Congress members. The new company to whom the debt is assigned, has Congress office-bearers. The control of National Herald is in the hands of the same Congress members, and they control Young India. How can that become criminal?" he said.
"The fact of the matter is that there is fear in the government. When they can’t tackle the Congress in a straight way, then you come at us this way...It is unfortunate that this type of politics is being played in our country," he said.