In its desperation to shield Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from scrutiny in National Herald Case, Congress Party could be damaging its image more than doing any good to it
Why would not the Congress just say go ahead and get done with the probe against the Gandhis in the National Herald case? The more it seeks legal options to evade the probe, the more it seems to be trying to escape from something uncomfortable. In its desperation to shield Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi from scrutiny, it could be damaging its image more than doing any good to it.
The decision of the Delhi High Court, allowing an Income Tax investigation into Young Indian Private Limited, has been followed by the usual reaction from the Congress. Besides calling it political witch-hunting, it has decided to move the Supreme Court for relief. The Congress president and vice-president are directors in the company with a majority – 76 percent – stake in it.
This is what party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala had to tell in reaction to the ruling, “Young Indian had raised certain fundamental jurisdictional issues challenging authority of Income Tax authorities. The Delhi High Court directed Income Tax authorities to decide all the issues raised in petition before the high court. Being satisfied with it, Abhishek Singhvi, advocate for Young Indian, has himself withdrawn the petition.”
Surjewala added, “Incidentally, Young Indian is a ‘not for profit’ company that only runs the ‘National Herald ‘ paper which is the last vestige of freedom movement which contributed to India’s freedom struggle. No one can withdraw a single rupee of profit, salary or dividend from it or benefit from it any manner as per the Companies Act. We are proud of protecting this important symbol of the freedom struggle and will always protect this trust of people of India. Witch-hunt or malice of the current BJP government will not deter us from upholding our bounden duty to the nation.”
The case pertains to BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s 2012 complaint that the Gandhis had committed fraud and breach of trust while acquiring Associated Journals Limited, which brought out the now defunct National Herald, through Young Indian Private Limited. The latter, according to his complaint, took over the assets of the company, worth about Rs 2,000 crore, to make a profit. He had named six Congress leaders, including Sonia and Rahul. The Congress has been maintaining that Young Indian was a non-profit organisation and it was making no financial gains out of the transaction. Moreover, no illegality was involved in the transaction.
The case has been good ammunition for the BJP to target the Gandhis with over the last five years. It’s like the Robert Vadra land deal case which becomes staple for raucous media debates at routine intervals. In fact, these are two cases which directly bring the Gandhi family in the line of fire. For the BJP, the outcome of these cases is less important than the perceptional damage these cause to the Congress leadership. It serves the BJP well if the debate lingers without a conclusion.
The Congress may well cry witch-hunt and have valid ground objecting to an Income Tax probe. The department, after all, works under the government and there could be questions on its neutrality. However, the fact is it is fait accompli if the Supreme Court too agrees with the high court’s order. Wouldn’t it be good for its image if it faces Swamy’s challenge and concedes to a probe? What’s better if the offer comes from the Gandhis themselves?
Right now, the impression is that the party is running away from a probe. What aggravates matter for it are other cases related to Associated Journals properties in Haryana and Mumbai. The CBI has already registered an FIR against Haryana former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and others. It is alleged that the process of allocation of a plot in Bandra, Mumbai is full of legal loopholes. How does the party get out of the mess? Its options are limited.
DENT IN RALLYING OPPOSITION
The National Herald Case has come at a time when Congress strategists are trying hard to put Sonia on the forefront, to stitch some kind of Opposition unity for the coming presidential election, and since she was leading the consultation process with the regional Opposition leaders, the Congress president is being positioned as the leader of a hypothetical UPA 3.
The timing of the Delhi High Court order could not have been worse for the Congress party.
As the case stands, Sonia and Rahul are the accused in a case of cheating and breach of trust and are out on bail. Together, they have 76 percent of the share, Young India Private Limited controls 38 percent of the share and the remaining 24 percent is held by their trusted party and family loyalists Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitradoa. The original charge against them, as filed by Subramanian Swamy, is that they used dubious means to acquire Associated Journalists Limited, which owned National Herald. The crux of the charge is that National Herald may have been a defunct print media outlet but it had real estate assets worth over Rs 2,000 crore in prime areas of important cities across India and the Gandhis, with the allegiance of some other Congress leaders, allegedly gained control over all the properties illegally.
The morale of Congress workers is currently at its lowest point. The Congress party is now reduced to a single digit figure of seven seats. Moreover, it could not form the government in Goa and Manipur despite having the majority. It’s performance in urban civic bodies and rural panchayat elections held in different parts of the country have been dismal too.
Despite the resolution of the Congress Working Committee, Rahul is reluctant to take up the post of Congress president. His all-round electoral failure as a leader, Robert Vadra’s land deal cases and even Priyanka Gandhi’s name figuring in some dubious land deals have further compounded the problems for Congress.
Priyanka had stood surety when Rahul was granted bail on December 19, 2015 in a Patiala House court in New Delhi, while AK Antony had stood surety for Sonia.
When Sonia and Rahul were forced to appear before the trial court, following Supreme Court’s refusal to step aside a lower court order that they must appear in person before the court, the Congress party had created quite a show. Hundreds of party workers chanted slogans while the Congress top guns accompanied the two inside the court room.
Though this was a legal issue, the Congress had disrupted the Winter Session of Parliament in 2015. Thankfully, this time around there is no Parliament session and the Monsoon Session will start only in July.
Moreover, some of its present and potential allies like RJD, BSP and TMC, for a grand opposition unity for presidential polls against ruling BJP, too are facing corruption charges.
The only solace for the Congress is that party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who argued the case in the high court, looked cheerful during the afternoon media briefing at the party headquarter and claimed that the court’s order was actually favourable to them.