PM trying to crush Congress financially, says Sonia

About 20% of India votes for us and we are not able to pay even ₹2 for anything... our ability to fight elections has been hit, says Rahul as party leaders seek unfreezing of accounts

Updated - March 22, 2024 06:31 am IST

Published - March 21, 2024 01:06 pm IST - New Delhi

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leader Rahul Gandhi during a media briefing at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on March 21, 2024.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Party Sonia Gandhi, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leader Rahul Gandhi during a media briefing at the AICC headquarters in New Delhi on March 21, 2024. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is making a “systematic effort” to cripple the Congress financially and deny a level playing field in the Lok Sabha election, Congress parliamentary party (CPP) chairperson Sonia Gandhi alleged on Thursday.

At a press conference, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, former party chief Rahul Gandhi and Ms. Gandhi mounted an all-out attack on the Union government and the BJP over the Income Tax (I-T) Department’s action on the Congress, to restrict the operation of its bank accounts, following a tax dispute. They demanded a level playing field to contest the Lok Sabha election.

Mr. Kharge demanded that the government immediately “defreeze” his party’s bank accounts while Mr. Gandhi claimed the idea that “India is the world’s largest democracy is a complete lie”.

“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. However, even under these most challenging circumstances, we are doing our best to maintain the effectiveness of our election campaign,” Ms. Gandhi said.

ALSO READ | Congress bankruptcy is moral and intellectual, not financial: Nadda

The party leaders demanded a level playing field to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha election.

Ms. Gandhi added that the BJP had “hugely benefited” from the electoral bond scheme – held as unconstitutional and illegal by the Supreme Court – while the Congress’s financial capabilities are under a “determined assault”. “...[This] affects not just the Indian National Congress, it impacts our democracy itself most fundamentally...This is truly unprecedented,” she said.

‘BJP looted our funds’

Congress treasurer Ajay Maken, who also addressed the media, said,” The BJP has looted donations given to our party by the common public by freezing our accounts and forcibly withdrawing ₹115.32 crore from them”.

In February, the I-T department had put a lien on 11 accounts of the Congress, as a penalty over discrepancies in filing tax returns for 2018-19, which affected the party’s operations.

PM Modi trying to cripple Congress financially: Sonia Gandhi

Mr. Maken said the I-T department had now sent a fresh notice, seeking details about 1993-94 when Sitaram Kesri was the Congress president.

Describing the I-T action of their bank accounts as “a criminal action against the Congress by the Prime Minister and Home Minister,” Mr. Gandhi said, “There is no democracy in India today and the idea that India is the world’s largest democracy is a complete lie.”

“All of you can imagine what happens when your bank account, your ATM card and your entire financial identity is erased. If this happens to a family, they will starve to death. If this happens to a business, they will be crippled. This is what they are doing to the Congress,” he added.

Mr. Gandhi wondered why independent institutions, be it courts, the Election Commission or the media, preferred to be silent and hadn’t intervened. “There are institutions that are supposed to protect the democratic framework but nothing is happening, he said. “About 20 per cent of India votes for us and we are not able to pay even ₹2 for anything. We can’t book slots for advertisement or even buy a rail ticket for our leaders to travel. Our ability to fight elections has been damaged.”

Dangerous game: Kharge

Mr. Kharge said a dangerous game is being played out that puts a question mark on the ability to hold impartial elections. He said those in power should not have monopoly over resources or complete control over constitutional bodies.

“I appeal to the constitutional authorities to ensure free and fair elections. Our accounts should be allowed to function normally. We are looking toward the courts to settle the tax disputes,” Mr. Kharge said.

Party’s communications chief Jairam Ramesh added that an analysis had shown that nearly ₹4,000 crore of electoral bonds correlate to ₹4 lakh crore worth of government contracts. “This is chanda do, dhanda lo [pay donations, take government business],” Mr. Ramesh said at the press conference.

In a separate post on X (formerly Twitter), Mr. Ramesh said, “Thirty-five pharmaceutical companies in India have contributed nearly ₹1,000 crore to political parties through electoral bonds, data released by the Election Commission on March 14 have revealed.”

“Of these, at least seven companies were being investigated for poor quality drugs when they purchased the bonds. The drugs in question include widely used products such as cough syrup, blood pressure regulating medicines, and the COVID-19 drug Remdesivir,” he added.

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