Frozen bank accounts "orchestrated to cripple Congress before elections"

Rahul Gandhi calls it a "criminal action against the party" by PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah

Congress labels freezing of the bank accounts a "systematic effort" to financially cripple the party at a press conference on 21 March 2024 (photo: Vipin/National Herald)
Congress labels freezing of the bank accounts a "systematic effort" to financially cripple the party at a press conference on 21 March 2024 (photo: Vipin/National Herald)

NH Political Bureau

In a rare press conference featuring chairperson Sonia Gandhi alongside Rahul Gandhi and party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, the Indian National Congress launched a scathing attack on the BJP-led government for using central agencies to freeze its bank accounts just before the Lok Sabha elections.

The notice, dated 14 March, pertains to an assessment of financial year 1994–95 — being issued 30 years later.

Sonia Gandhi characterised it as a "systematic effort" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to financially incapacitate the party.

"The issue we are taking up today is extremely serious. The issue affects not just the Indian National Congress but the democracy itself. A systematic effort is underway by the Prime Minister to cripple the Indian National Congress financially," Sonia Gandhi said

Rahul Gandhi went further, condemning it as a "criminal action" orchestrated by both the Prime Minister and union home minister Amit Shah.

Kharge added weight to the accusations, noting that the Bharatiya Janata Party had received the lion's share of funds from certain companies under the electoral bonds scheme, which has since been invalidated by the Supreme Court — yet the BJP coffers are still available to the party.

Incidentally, the State Bank of India (SBI) was rebuked by the Supreme Court last Friday, 15 March, for providing incomplete information on the electoral bonds and was subsequently issued a notice to explain the reasons behind its failure to disclose unique alphanumeric numbers.

The Court ordered the bank to disclose all details pertaining to the electoral bonds scheme by 21 March, admonishing it for being "selective" in its disclosure practices.

The Congress had also earlier asserted in February that its bank accounts were frozen by the Income Tax department due to a dispute over a tax demand of Rs 210 crore. However, there was no official confirmation from the income tax department.

At today's press conference, the Congress re-trained the spotlight on the electoral bonds scheme — over which the party had called for a freeze on the BJP accounts that benefitted from the now-defunct scheme, declared untenable by the courts — and highlighted the 'chronology' of the frozen Congress accounts as well, which action comes just after poll dates have been announced.

Highlights of charges by the Congress

  • Rahul Gandhi asserted that the freezing of the party's bank accounts was deliberately orchestrated to hinder its campaign efforts towards the Lok Sabha elections, rendering its leaders unable to travel across the country for campaigning purposes or commissioning collaterals.

  • Rahul Gandhi also noted that the freezing of the accounts severely hampers the party's ability to conduct campaign activities, support its workers or aid its candidates. He implied that this was a calculated attempt t hamstring the party, particularly given that a significant portion of India's electorate actually supports the Congress.

  • Sonia Gandhi alleged an assault on the financial resources of the principal opposition party, noting that funds collected from the public were being frozen and forcibly withdrawn from the party's accounts.

  • Mallikarjun Kharge accused the BJP of amassing significant sums through the electoral bonds scheme, while simultaneously conspiring to freeze the bank accounts of the main opposition party. This, he argued, created an uneven playing field in the political landscape and would have far-reaching consequences.

In addition to the press conference in New Delhi, Congress treasurer Ajay Maken posted on X in a statement highlighting the peculiarities of this latest action against the grand old party just ahead of the elections.

Saying that all bank accounts of the Congress Party were frozen about a month ago, Rahul Gandhi said:

20% of the people of the country vote for Congress, but today we cannot buy railway tickets, we cannot give advertisements.
It is a case of Rs 14 lakh and a fine of Rs 200 crore has been imposed, on which a maximum fine of Rs 10 thousand can be imposed.
This is a criminal conspiracy against Congress, which is being carried out by the Prime Minister of India. There is no democracy left in the country today.

"We cannot do our campaign work," said Rahul Gandhi. "We cannot support our workers and candidates."

"Our leaders cannot travel from one part of the country to the other.

"We're unable to put out our ads.

"This is being done two months before the election campaign.

"This is a criminal action against the Congress party, done by the Prime Minister and the home minister. It is being orchestrated to cripple us before the elections.

"There are institutions in the country that are supposed to protect the democratic framework. No court is saying anything, the Election Commission is silent, no other institution is saying anything, and the media is not saying anything. There is no democracy in India today."

The people of India are being robbed of their Constitution and democratic structure
Rahul Gandhi

In his turn, party president Kharge repeatedly demanded a "level playing field", as democracy demands for "free and fair" elections.

Said Kharge, "I appeal to the constitutional institutions that if they want free and fair elections, then they should allow us to freely access our bank accounts."

He added, "No political party comes under the purview of income tax," and highlighted that the BJP has not been paying income tax either — because it is simply not required of a political party.

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