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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 22 May 2024

Systematic plan by BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cripple the Congress financially, says Sonia Gandhi

In a press conference also addressed by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, the party stressed that all its accounts were frozen

PTI New Delhi Published 21.03.24, 12:08 PM
Sonia Gandhi with Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi.

Sonia Gandhi with Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi. Videograb

Putting the spotlight on its precarious finances ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Congress' top brass on Thursday demanded immediate access to its frozen bank accounts to ensure a level playing field as Sonia Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a "systematic effort" to cripple the party.

In a rare press conference along with party chief Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi said electoral bonds have, on the one hand, benefitted the BJP hugely and, on the other, finances of the principal opposition party are under "determined assault".

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This is truly unprecedented, she asserted.

The move to freeze the party's accounts, the leaders said, had not just impacted the Congress but democracy in India.

"We can do no campaign work... Our ability to fight elections has been damaged," former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said while launching a scathing attack on the government over the issue of freezing of the party's accounts due to an Income Tax returns issue.

"All our bank accounts have been frozen. We can do no campaign work, we cannot support our workers, we cannot support our candidates, our leaders cannot fly from one part of the country to another... they can't take a railway train and this has been literally two months before the election campaign," he added.

Eight of the 11 accounts of the party are frozen, sources said.

What is interesting, the former Congress president said, is that there are institutions in this country that are supposed to protect the democratic framework of the country, there are the courts, there is the Election Commission and nothing is happening.

He said 20 per cent of India votes for the Congress which is not even able to pay Rs 2 for anything.

"We have already lost a month. We are unable to get slots for advertising, we are unable to put advertisements in newspapers, so what sort of democracy is this," he said.

"It has been orchestrated to cripple us in the elections. Even if our bank accounts are unfrozen today, a huge amount of damage has been done to Indian democracy," Rahul Gandhi claimed.

Terming the freezing of accounts a "criminal action" against the Congress by the prime minister and Home Minister Amit Shah, he said, "There is no democracy in India today and the idea that India is the world’s largest democracy is a complete lie." This is not the freezing of the Congress' bank accounts, this is freezing of the Indian democracy, he said.

Kharge appealed to the constitutional institutions of the country that if they want free and fair elections then they should allow his party to access bank accounts without any restriction.

"The Income Tax claim will ultimately be settled as per the decision of the court. Political parties do not pay tax, BJP never paid it, even after this if we are being asked for it, then we will wait for the final decision of the court," he said.

Adding her voice to the chorus of condemnation by party leaders, Sonia Gandhi said the issue being taken up today is "very, very serious" and affects not just the Congress but "impacts our democracy itself most fundamentally".

"A systematic effort is underway by the prime minister to cripple the Indian National Congress financially. Funds collected from the public are being frozen, and money from our accounts is being taken away forcibly," she said.

"However, even under these most challenging circumstances, we are doing our best to maintain the effectiveness of our election campaign," she said.

The three senior leaders were flanked by Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh and AICC treasurer Ajay Maken at the press conference.

"The BJP has looted donations given to the Congress party by the common public by freezing our accounts and forcibly withdrawing Rs 115.32 crore from them," Maken alleged.

The party in power, Kharge said, amassed funds through electoral bonds while freezing the Congress' accounts to create hurdles for it in fighting polls.

"Those in power should not have direct or indirect control over constitutional bodies," he said, adding that those in power should not have monopoly over resources.

The facts that have come out about electoral bonds after the intervention of the Supreme Court recently are very worrying, Kharge said.

"A question mark has been put on the image of fair elections and healthy democracy that our country had built in the last 70 years," the Congress chief said.

Under the electoral bonds scheme, the ruling party pocketed more than Rs 6,000 crore in its account, he claimed.

"Conspiracy has been hatched to freeze the bank accounts of the main opposition party so that we are not able to contest the elections fairly...this is a dangerous game played by the ruling party," he said, adding that this will have far-reaching effects.

"But it is clear that creating obstacles in contesting elections by rendering any political party helpless in this manner can never be called a free and fair election," Kharge said.

The Delhi High Court earlier this month refused to interfere with the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal's order declining to stay a notice issued by the Income Tax department to the Congress party for recovery of outstanding tax of more than Rs 100 crore.

The party had earlier said the I-T tribunal order freezing its funds was "an attack on democracy" as it had come just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

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