14 Apr 2019

Alleged scams and controversial deals loom large over political ambitions this election season


As the nation steps into the business end of the election season and political parties and their top leaders leave no stone unturned to have an upper hand over rivals, the Damoclean sword of scams and alleged underhand dealings still hangs over many of them, threatening to undermine their popularity and scupper their electoral prospects. This sword serves them, too, as their ultimate ammunition against their prime electoral enemies.


One of the most recent and biggest manifestations of this phenomenon was seen in Madhya Pradesh and New Delhi earlier this month.


Before sunrise on the first Sunday of this month, the Income Tax department conducted raids at more than 50 places in Indore and Bhopal, including the residence of Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath's Officer on Special Duty (OSD) Praveen Kakkar, and in New Delhi. These were not one of those raids that had little outcome. With wads of cash seized along the way, this was a proper crackdown on hawala money.


Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior IT department source revealed: "About 300 IT Department personnel from New Delhi were given the task after receiving a credible information about the hawala money."


The IT officials raided Kakkar's office on the sixth floor of Platinum Plaza building and his residence in Nadir Colony in Bhopal. Kakkar's house and office in Indore were also searched, according to sources. Similarly, the residence of NGO manager Ashwini Sharma on Platinum Plaza's fourth floor was also searched. The official also identified luxury cars reportedly belonging to Sharma.


For the first time ever Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers accompanied the IT teams.


The IT department source said that the searches are linked to suspected movement of hawala money during the ongoing polls season and tax evasion. Other sources revealed that apart from Kakkar and Sharma, the premises of Kamal Nath's former adviser Rajendra Miglani and executives linked to his brother-in-law's firm Moser Bayer and his nephew Ratul Puri's company were also searched. Searches were also conducted against Kolkata-based businessman Paras Mal Lodha.


The IT Department got tips from the questioning of Puri by the Enforcement Directorate in the national capital in connection with the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland chopper deal case, the source added, which led to the series of raids.


In response, Kakkar promptly called the IT raids at his residence and other places a "political operation". Interrogated by the IT team till late in the day on April 8, he revealed that he was grilled for 46 hours.


"They searched all the rooms and lockers, but could not find any objectionable document. At other places too, no objectionable material was found," he said.


Meanwhile, IT officials were searching the offices and residences of Kakkar, Ashwini Sharma, Manager of an NGO located in Bhopal's Platinum Plaza building, and his close aide Prateek Joshi, for the third consecutive day – and, according to sources, a lot of of cash, gold and silver jewellery were recovered from Kakkar's Indore house and Sharma's Bhopal residence.


The officials talked about unearthing details about Rs 281 crore worth of organised transactions, involving businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats. They also reported seizing 252 liquor bottles, arms and tiger skin, although they declined to name the political party to which the accused have been linked.


However, they did reveal knowledge about the hawala transfer of Rs 20 crore from a party headquarters to a senior leader of that party whose residence is located at Delhi's Tughlaq Road.


Other sources reported that illegal transactions to the tune of Rs 230 crore were done by a company owned by a close relative of the party leader – a company that had also evaded tax amounting to Rs 242 crore.


The Bharatiya Janata Party was quick to catch on to the Tughlaq connection.


On the very day that the IT teams were busy with their third day of raids, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during an election rally in Junagadh, Gujarat, said: "Now, the Congress scam has got a new name, but with proof … The Congress is indulging in a 'Tughlaq Road election scam', in which money meant for the poor pregnant women is being usurped to fill their own leaders' bellies."


It is no secret, albeit a mere coincidence, that Congress President Rahul Gandhi's official residence is on Tughlaq Lane in New Delhi while Kamal Nath's official residence is also on a road called Tughlaq Road.


Referring to the searches conducted by the IT department in MP, the Prime Minister said the state had become the "new ATM" of the Congress. "You must have seen in the media in the last few days how cash filled sacks were found from Congress leaders. It has not even been six months of forming the government in that state," Modi thundered.


Claiming that the Congress was interested in coming to power for looting, he said: "The entire story of Congress is a story of a single family.”


In a scathing attack on Congress, the Prime Minister stated that during the five years of his government, he had brought the grand old party of India to the doorstep of imprisonment. "Give me another five years, and I will ensure they (Congress leaders) are in jail," Modi said in his home state, which has 26 Lok Sabha seats, and is going to the polls on April 23.


Later that day, during an interview to CNN-News18 television channel, the Prime Minister even went so far as to call the MP chief minister "Bhrasht Nath". While taking a jibe at Kamal Nath, Modi also referred to other controversial cases involving the Congress leadership, such as National Herald and fodder scams, before adding that if scams were surfacing, the people behind them should also be exposed.


“Bhrasht Nath could say anything, but it doesn't matter. Action needs to be taken on scams and corruption," Modi said.


These developments put the spotlight on the immense wealth of the MP Chief Minister and his family, who were found to have assets worth well over Rs 780 crore, but a few developments at the nation’s apex court the very next day helped the Congress return the favour to the BJP immediately.


It was the Rafale deal once again, involving the Modi government’s controversial procurement of French fighter jets, which has kept haunting the saffron party for a good part of its rule at the Centre.


The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment, on April 10 rejected the preliminary objections raised by the Central government on the Rafale review petitions and ruled that it would hear the petitions on the merits of their content.


The court rejected the Centre's claim of privilege over the three documents that were annexed by former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, journalist Arun Shourie and lawyer Prashant Bhushan – the three main petitioners who had pleaded for a review of the apex court’s December 14, 2018 judgment giving a clean chit to the government in the decision-making process and an application alleging perjury against government officials for misleading the court and suppressing material information pertaining to the Rafale deal.


The Supreme Court also ruled that since the three documents were already published in the media, the government’s claim of immunity under Section 123 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, relating to unpublished public records, was “plainly not tenable”.


The Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi also referred to the public interest value of the matter and Right to Information Act as bases of its verdict.


This emboldened the Congress enough for the party to say that after it returns to power on May 23 this year, it will order a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into it.


Asserting that a JPC probe was imperative to catching "the real culprits" of "the scam", Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “Modi government has made lies, falsehood, deceit, treachery and fakery the foundation of its defence in the Rafale scam.”


The first document, he noted, was about the parallel negotiations on the Rafale deal.


"On November 24, 2015, Defence Secretary wrote to then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar stating that PMO be advised to not conduct parallel negotiations on Rafale deal as this compromises and undermines the Indian Negotiations Team (INT)," he said.


"It is clear that PM Modi lied to the Supreme Court also and misled it. In the affidavit before Supreme Court...Modi ji said that negotiations on Rafale Deal were held by the INT. Defence Ministry file notings now show otherwise. Parallel negotiations were actually held by PM Modi himself. This fact was deliberately withheld from the Supreme Court."


The second document is about National Security Advisor Ajit Doval negotiating the Rafale deal, and not the "Negotiations Committee" of the Indian Air Force and the Defence Ministry.


The third document is the dissent note of the INT that records objections of its three members on various aspects of the deal.


"Modi government mischievously lied to the Supreme Court when they said that the CAG report on Rafale's pricing had been made public and examined by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), a statement that was denied swiftly by PAC Chairman Mallikarjun Kharge," he said.


"In the light of the above documentary evidence, it is crystal clear that set procedures were not been followed in the Rafale deal and 'crony capitalism' became the backbone of this scam."


As accusations between the ruling BJP and the Congress-led opposition fly thick and fast during this election period, both parties must do all they can to have as few of those stick to them as possible.



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