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Bang-bang Sonia, zzz-soccer Rahul

New Delhi, July 9: In the age of Twitter, Sonia Gandhi has fallen back on Indira Gandhi’s vocal style to allege a “political witch-hunt” by the new government and warn of a comeback.

“Income-tax notice in the National Herald case is political vindictiveness. Political witch-hunt will only help us come back and fight harder,” Sonia told an NDTV reporter in response to a question.

The Congress president does not speak to journalists often but chose to do so today while she was coming out of Parliament.

The reporter asked Sonia what she thought of the income-tax notice seeking a response on why tax benefits given to the Congress should not be withdrawn.

BJP leader Subramanian Swamy alleged that the Nehru-Gandhis and associates had floated a company that acquired the publisher of the Herald with an eye on the now-defunct paper’s property worth crores of rupees.

Sonia’s response through conventional means (she does not have a Twitter account unlike Prime Minister Narendra Modi) was sharp — or vocal enough for Congress veterans to recall the parallels with Indira’s aggressive posture when she was arrested by the Janata Party government on various charges.

However, not many Congress members appeared confident that Sonia would be able to replicate Indira’s feat of bouncing back within three years of losing power.

If Sonia was hoping to send an wake-up call to the Congress as well, it could not have come at a better time.

A video clip of Rahul Gandhi appearing to doze off in the Lok Sabha during the discussion on price rise did the rounds today, making some wonder whether the cause was last night’s World Cup soccer match.

Indira, arrested in 1977 after an anti-Emergency wave swept her out of power, had said: “Attempts to discredit me in the eyes of people will prove futile. I will come back. Nothing can stop me from going to the people….”

The Congress had capitalised on this pugnacious posture when Indira contested a byelection from Karnataka’s Chikmagalur a year later. “Ek sherni sau langur, Chikmagalur, Chikmagalur,” went the slogan that devastated the opponent and set the stage for Indira’s eventual comeback in 1980.

At that time, Indira’s arrest and trial meant that attention stayed focused on her, prompting some to say that the Morarji Desai government ensured that “she did not have to come back, she never went anywhere”.

The video footage of Rahul with eyes closed and head tilted went viral on social media. Some Congress leaders said he might have missed sleep because of the late night semi-finals match between Brazil and Germany.

Rahul is known to be a football buff and is said to be backing the two European teams --- Germany and Netherlands --- for berths in Sunday’s final. In Calcutta, that itself might have been considered more sacrilegious than nodding off in the middle of a discussion in the august House but Brazil’s performance may spare Rahul a backlash on that count.

The Congress, however, firmly denied that their vice president had slept in the House.

“It is media sensationalism. It is not true. I categorically deny all aspersions,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said.

The BJP did not miss the opportunity to take a dig. “People have been burdened with price rise since the Congress has been sleeping for the last 10 years,” BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain said.

Many MPs are seen dozing off during discussions in Parliament, which should find a place among the most comfortable workplaces in the country. Unfortunately for Rahul, he was caught on camera.

Privately, some Congress MPs were heard saying Rahul should have been more alert and attentive. If he was sleepy after staying up to watch the Germany-Brazil World Cup semi-final, he should have stayed home, they said.

Sonia today confirmed that she, son Rahul Gandhi and the Congress had been served notices by the income-tax department. According to law, political parties are exempt from taxes on all sources of income.

Swamy had recently moved court alleging the Congress had broken the law by loaning Rs 90 crore to a firm in which majority stake was owned by Rahul and Sonia. He claimed political parties could not give loans for commercial transactions.

Prakash Javadekar, the Union information and broadcasting minister, denied Sonia’s charges of political vendetta. “We don’t believe in political vendetta. But if a law has been broken, there will be consequences.”

The income tax notice comes soon after a Delhi court order asking Sonia and Rahul to appear before it on August 7 in the Herald case.

Swamy has alleged in his complaint that the Gandhis floated a company called Young India, which acquired Associated Journals Limited --- the publisher of three newspapers, including the National Herald, an English daily founded and edited by Jawaharlal Nehru before he became Prime Minister. The paper was shut down in 2008 for financial reasons.

Swamy has alleged that the Congress used party funds to enable Young India to acquire Associated Journals and that the Gandhis aimed to grab property worth thousands of crores belonging to the publishing company.

Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi has dismissed Swamy’s charges as “baseless and motivated”.

Congress leaders said under company law provisions, Young India was not supposed to make money or buy/sell Herald property. Moreover, most of the land given on lease in Lucknow, Bhopal, Mumbai and other places was entangled in multiple legal cases and Young India would gain nothing from it.

Young India directors include party leaders Oscar Fernandes and Motilal Vora, and Gandhi family friend Suman Dubey, a former journalist.