| Media photographers try their best to catch on camera the search operation by state vigilance officials on Saturday at Parkash Singh Badal’s residence in Chandigarh. (PTI)
Chandigarh, June 28: Punjab vigilance bureau sleuths, accompanied by gun-toting policemen, today raided Parkash Singh Badal’s residence in connection with a disproportionate assets case.
A Kharar court had yesterday issued search warrants for 16 properties in Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Delhi on a case registered on Tuesday against the Shiromani Akali Dal president and seven others, including wife Surinder Kaur and son Sukhbir, a Rajya Sabha member and former Union minister.
Today, deputy inspector-general of police B.K. Uppal led a raid by 15 stern-looking sleuths and handpicked Punjab police personnel on the Sector 9 bungalow registered in Sukhbir’s name. Badal’s ancestral home in Faridkot was also raided. The raids began at 11 am and ended at 5.30 pm.
“We did not come to take anything. We were only assessing the value of the house and the things inside it and took some photographs,” a senior vigilance officer said. Earlier this month, Badal’s farmhouse in Balasar, Haryana, was also raided in connection with another case.
“The raids are meant to humiliate me. This is political vendetta of the worst kind,” said the former chief minister at his Sector 2 official residence.
A harried-looking Badal claimed that half the properties listed by the vigilance department were not owned by him or his family members. Of the rest, 90 per cent, including the farmhouse in Balasar, are ancestral properties, he said.
“The others have been declared by me in my income-tax returns filed over the years. If it is proved that I own even an inch of property abroad, I will retire from politics and own up all allegations heaped on me by Amarinder (Singh, the Punjab chief minister),” he said.
Amarinder has charged Badal with amassing property worth Rs 3,500 crore in India and abroad.
In a letter to Badal on September 4, 2001, on a Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee letterhead, a copy of which is with The Telegraph, Amarinder had charged the then chief minister with owning a 10,000-acre farm in Perth, an 8,000-acre farm in California, four floors of a building in Manhattan and two parking lots in New York, apart from property and business in India. Badal had also made substantial investments in night clubs in that city, he had said.
Singh had vowed to put Badal behind bars, if he came to power. As chief minister, one of his first orders had been to initiate a probe into Badal’s wealth and send senior officers abroad to gather evidence against him.
Badal said the government is pursuing a vendetta. “The government is exaggerating the issue to tarnish my image before the people.”
The raids have also brought to the open fissures within the state Congress. State party president H.S. Hanspal opposed the idea of arresting Badal for “petty economic offences”.
According to Hanspal, once considered to be Singh’s protégé, Badal’s arrest would amount to “political vendetta”. “The law should follow its own course.”
Hanspal’s remarks have exposed Singh’s claims of unity in the Congress on Badal’s arrest.
A section of the Congress opposed to the chief minister feels that Singh has overstepped his brief on the issue.
“Amarinder is a turncoat. If he has something personal against Badal, he should not drag the party into the fight,” said a Congress leader.
“He has no one to answer to apart from the high command, which has no time for grassroots workers. We, the unsung heroes of the party who helped it win the last polls, have to answer about the functioning of the government in this particular case. From allegations of the Badals amassing Rs 3,500 crore, the government has come down to Rs 9-odd crore. Who will explain that'” he asked.
The intelligence wing of the Punjab police has warned of a law and order problem if Badal is arrested and advised the chief minister not to have him arrested but to leave the decision to the courts. In other similar cases, the vigilance bureau first made the arrests and then filed the chargesheet. All those arrested are now on bail.
Senior Akali leaders felt that today’s developments would force Akali supporters to take to the streets. “We will protest democratically. But if the Congress uses the police to browbeat us, we warn that Punjab will burn,” said a senior leader.
“We know that the Congress high command has been thinking on the repression let loose on the Akali party by Amarinder,” he said.