Congress accuses Centre of unleashing ‘financial terrorism’ after IT department withdraws ₹65 crore from its accounts

The BJP-led government is attempting to cripple Congress poll preparations, drag the country into “dictator raj”, say Congress leaders; allege that BJP got ₹335 crore from 30 donors under the IT, ED, CBI scanner

Updated - February 22, 2024 11:15 pm IST

Published - February 22, 2024 07:25 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leaders Ajay Maken, KC Venugopal and other during a press conference, at AICC Headquarters in New Delhi, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

Congress leaders Ajay Maken, KC Venugopal and other during a press conference, at AICC Headquarters in New Delhi, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

The Congress on February 22 accused the Narendra Modi-led Union government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of unleashing “financial terrorism” on the principal Opposition party to “cripple” their election preparation and deny them a level playing field.

Announcing that the Income Tax (IT) department had withdrawn ₹65.89 crore from the Congress’ bank accounts, party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal alleged that the ruling party was attempting to “murder the world’s largest democracy” and drag the country into a “dictatorship raj”.

The IT department action is part of an ongoing tax dispute. The department has raised a demand of ₹210 crore against the Congress over an alleged discrepancy in filing IT returns for the assessment year 2018-2019. The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal is hearing the party’s appeal against the IT department’s action and has stayed any further withdrawal from Congress bank accounts.

‘Account hijacked’

“What does it mean just before the Parliament elections? The account of the principal Opposition party has been hijacked by the BJP government. They are stealing our money from the banks,” Mr. Venugopal said at a press conference. He added that the withdrawn money had all been collected through crowd funding and the party’s membership drive.

“This is an attack on democratic principles and values. They are trying to shut out the voice of the Opposition. Clearly this is an example of dictatorship. The BJP is dragging the largest democracy in the world to a ‘dictatorship raj’. This type of low-level attack has never happened in history. We will fight it out,” Mr. Venugopal said.

Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh drew a parallel with the demonetisation exercise carried out in 2016, before the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election. “The November 2016 demonetisation had one objective and that is how to prevent prominent political parties from fighting the UP elections. Similarly, just before 2024 elections, a conspiracy is being hatched to make the Congress financially crippled... This is an attempt to murder democracy,” he said.

‘BJP blackmailed its donors’

Mr. Ramesh said that the IT department’s action showed that the BJP government was rattled by the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, the farmers’ movement, and rising inflation.

He also alleged that the Modi government had collected ₹335 crore in donation from 30 companies that had been raided or were under investigation by the IT department, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation.

“Looting Opposition & Blackmailing donors to fill BJP’s coffers is a dark phase for our Democracy! We shall fight this tooth and nail - Both in the court of law and in the court of the people!” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said in a post on X.

At the press conference, Congress treasurer Ajay Maken termed the IT department’s action as “looting” and questioned the timing of the move, given that the tax demand pertained to 2018-19 tax filing. “...the proceedings of taking out our money took place five years afterwards, just two weeks before the elections are to be announced. We will definitely get back our money, but by then the elections would be over,” Mr. Maken said.

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