Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Freezed bank accounts: Sonia says systematic effort by PM to cripple party finances; BJP hits back

Date:

New Delhi: 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’s finances.

The BJP, however, hit back alleging the accusation is a “desperate” attempt to create an alibi for its imminent defeat and charged the Gandhis with shaming Indian democracy globally with their irresponsible remarks.

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”.

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.

The leaders claimed Rs 210 crore has been marked as lien in their freezed accounts for a notice for the year 2017-18 for Rs 14.49 crore received in cash, the party has received another Income Tax notice for its returns 30 years ago for 1994-95 too.

Kharge said this is a ‘dangerous game’ being played by the BJP which will have far-reaching consequences and urged the courts to see that the rule of law is made applicable.

To save democracy, there should be a level playing field, he said, adding that if constitutional institutions want a free and fair election our party should be allowed to operate our bank accounts freely.

“They do not want us to contest election and want a one-sided election. Our frozen accounts should be released immediately and a level playing field should be ensured to save democracy and the Constitution,” Kharge said.

“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 party’s accounts by Income Tax.

“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.

What is interesting, the former Congress chief said, is there are institutions 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, claiming that the party is unable to take any action, send its leaders anywhere or book advertisements. “We cannot do anything, what else is this, if it is not an assault on democracy,” he alleged.

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.

He also claimed the Congress has been slapped with I-T notice pertaining to accounts 30 years back on the eve of elections.

“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,” Kharge said.

The Delhi High Court earlier this month refused to interfere with the I-T appellate tribunal’s order declining to stay a notice issued by the I-T department to the Congress for recovery of outstanding tax of more than Rs 100 crore.

PTI

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