Leaders of 12 political parties, including the DMK, the Shiv Sena, the RJD and the Left have come out in support of Sonia Gandhi even as Congress activists held protests against quizzing of the party president by the ED in National Herald case, reports Amit Agnihotri
The Congress was up in the arms and came out on the streets to protest against the ED summons issued to the party chief, Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case on July 21.
Her two children, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, accompanied Sonia Gandhi to the ED office, not far from her official residence, while a battery of senior party leaders converged at the party headquarters to protest against the summons, described by the Congress as BJP’s political vendetta.
Priyanka was allowed to stay in the agency office in a nearby room, given Sonia’s health condition, while Rahul left the place. Ahead of Sonia’s appearance, a large contingent of security forces comprising Delhi Police, CRPF and RAF had been deployed in the VVIP area which had been sealed off.
Not only did the Centre’s move charge up the Congress, which protested against the summons around the country, around 12 opposition parties condemned the ruling party’s alleged misuse of the central agencies to hound its political rivals in one voice.
Leaders of 12 political parties, including the DMK, the Shiv Sena, the RJD and the Left parties, met at the Parliament House and issued a statement in support of Sonia Gandhi.
Prominent leaders of a number of political parties have been deliberately targeted and subjected to harassment in an unprecedented manner, the statement said.
The opposition’s presidential candidate, Yashwant Sinha strongly condemned the ED’s attitude to humiliate political leaders. “The officers of ED should have gone to her residence even if they had questions to ask of Sonia Gandhi,” he said on Twitter.
“Yet again the Extended Department (ED) of BJP is insulating the party from people’s anger towards price rise, joblessness and inflation. By repeatedly calling opposition leaders with zero evidence against them is deliberate political vendetta carried out on behalf of the BJP,” Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said.
Congress veteran and joint opposition vice-presidential candidate Margaret Alva too said that such action against Sonia Gandhi on a day the country elected its first tribal woman as President was unfortunate.
The Congress had agitated over similar ED summons to Rahul Gandhi in June but veterans like Ghulam Nabi Azad had skipped the protests. This time, even Azad came out to express solidarity with Sonia Gandhi.
When Rahul was summoned by the agency, Sonia Gandhi was recovering from Covid-related ailment in a hospital. Upon her return, she had requested for a fresh date of appearance, which was fixed by the ED as July 21.
As Rahul was abroad, AICC general secretary in charge of organization, KC Venugopal and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been discussing a strategy over the summons with senior leaders for days in advance.
On July 21, all the senior leaders, including AICC general secretaries, in charge of states, AICC secretaries and members of the Congress Working Committee, besides heads of frontal organizations like Youth Congress, NSUI and Mahila Congress, converged at the party headquarters to stage a peaceful protest.
The party appeared better prepared this time as it had tested its systems during the June protests and around 150 odd senior leaders courted arrest when the police tried to stop them from taking out a foot march.
“All Congress MPs and CWC members have courted mass arrest outside our party headquarters in a show of collective solidarity with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, a target of “Vishguru’s political vendetta,” said Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh.
Members of the Youth Congress blocked train tracks while women’s wing activists raised anti-government slogans and squatted on the road outside the party office. Across states, local Congress units staged protest marches against the targeting of their leader in a show of strength.
The nationwide protests once again established the centrality of the Gandhi family in the Congress system.
“The Gandhi family’s credibility is high as they take everyone along,” Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, a close aide of Sonia Gandhi, said.
“We can never forget that Sonia Gandhi has given her life for the party. Her contribution for the party is immense. Her mother-in-law and former prime minister Indira Gandhi died in her arms. Her husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi sacrificed his life for the country,” he said.
Defending the Congress chief, Gehlot said that the Gandhi family had sacrificed for the country and the party.
“Sonia Gandhi was targeted for being a foreigner trying to become PM of the country by the BJP but she sacrificed the high office. She is no less than any other Indian woman as she adopted the traditions of this country after losing her husband. The government should be ashamed of what it is doing to her. The ED could have questioned Sonia Gandhi at her home. There are provisions for women in such cases,” he said.
The Congress veteran claimed that PM Modi and home minister Amit Shah were worried over the Congress revival following the Udaipur declaration and had let loose the central agencies to haunt the opposition parties.
“Modi-Shah got worried after we announced a nationwide yatra in the Udaipur declaration,” said Gehlot.
The Congress leader condemned the summons and urged the probe agency to make the charges against the Gandhis public.
“I condemn the summons. The ED should do a presser to make the charges against the Gandhis public. There is nothing wrong in the case. Earlier, they questioned Rahul Gandhi for hours but nothing came out,” he said, adding “I want to tell the ED what people think about them.”
Gehlot cited over 50 hours of questioning in Rahul’s case and the low conviction rate of the ED to allege that the probe agency was being used to harass the opposition leaders.
“This is a bogus case. The charges are baseless and false. The ED questioning is just an attempt to browbeat the Congress leadership,” Rajya Sabha member Vivek Tankha said.
Party leaders said they had staged peaceful protests earlier when Rahul had been summoned by the agency but had to face unreasonable restrictions from the police, which manhandled several senior leaders, including women MPs.
“We follow the law but we know there are two laws, one for those who join the BJP and another for the political rivals. If they had been in our place, they would have resorted to violence. But we are singing bhajans at our party headquarters to register a peaceful protest,” said Gehlot, adding “The AICC headquarters has been sealed by the police. Wrong precedents are being set.”
Instead of targeting the opposition, the government should address the problems being faced by the people like price rise, unemployment and sliding economy, said Gehlot, adding that the Centre was treating the opposition like an enemy. “Earlier, they used to say Congress-free country. Now they want an opposition-free country,” he said.
The Congress also mobilized support of the other opposition parties inside Parliament to corner the government over the pro-people issues during the ongoing monsoon session as well the ED summons for Sonia. “Is she some ‘super human’ because she is the Congress president?” Parliamentary Affairs minister Prahlad Joshi said.
Media chairman Pawan Khera hit back: “They don’t know the Congress party. We will not be cowered down with such tactics. You can let loose any agency against us.”
When Sonia Gandhi returned home after over two hours of questioning, Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh addressed a presser to deny reports that the Congress chief had sought relief from the probe.
“The Congress chief in fact was ready to face ED questions for long hours. But she was asked to go home as the agency’s doctor on duty was not available and the agency was busy with some other cases the next day,” said Ramesh.
The next date of Sonia’s questioning was fixed as July 26.
The probe relates to alleged financial irregularities in the Congress-promoted Young Indian Private Limited, which owns the National Herald newspaper. The move to question the Gandhis was initiated after the ED late last year registered a fresh case under criminal provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.
This was after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax department probe against Young Indian on the basis of a private criminal complaint by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Swamy had accused the Gandhis and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds, with YI paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that AJL owed to the Congress.
Sonia and Rahul are among the promoters and majority shareholders of Young Indian. Like her son, the Congress president too has 38 per cent shareholding.
The Congress party has maintained that there has been no wrongdoing and Young Indian is a “not-for-profit” company established under section 25 of the Companies Act and hence there can be no question of money laundering.
Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal were questioned by the ED in the case in April.