Can Sonia Gandhi Become Indira?

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New Delhi – As I write this, the Parliament is paralysed  by the Congress members. Here, the Congress is not agitating on the “demerits” of the Modi-government’s legislative proposals such as the Goods and Service Tax (GST) or Land Acquisition measures. Nor is it  demanding actions against the “corrupt”  BJP-Chief Ministers in the states, as was the case before. This time, the stalling, which the Congress leader Ghulam abi Azad terms as “protesting”, against the “political vendetta” of the Modi government against the Gandhi family, particularly Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in “the National Herald case”.

As of today, the Gandhis have not been pronounced guilty in the National Herald case, which is about how a newly floated NGO , “Young Indian”, having 76 percent shares of the  Gandhis acquired the National Herald and its properties all over the country worth thousands of crores(the National Herald building in Delhi alone is worth 1600 crore rupees, not to speak of other properties in Mumbai, Bhopal, Lucknow, Hyderabad  and Chandigarh)and how the Congress party waived off a loan of 90 crore rupees from the Congress party fund(which is tax free and under the income tax related laws is debarred from engaging in commercial transactions). The “Herald House” in Delhi is a prime location and land it is based on was allotted by the government for the exclusive purpose of bringing about a news publication.

The case against Gandhi predates the Modi government and was lodged by Subramaniam Swamy, then not a member of the ruling BJP,  in his individual capacity. What the Delhi High Court did on December 7 was to dismiss the pleas of the Gandhis that they should not be asked to appear personally in the Lower Court that had summoned them for  hearing the case. The High Court found prima facie grounds of “criminality” on the parts of the Gandhis in taking over the National Herald newspaper and its sister publications in March 2010 by paying a sum of just 50 lakh rupees, knowing pretty well that the debt ridden paper has got 90 core rupees from the Congress, which the party ironically waived off as bad loan, and that newspaper could have easily cleared its debts by disposing off one of its properties that it has all over the country.

The High Court also took note of “the  conflict of interest” by the Congress treasurer Motilal Vohra, who used the party fund of 90 crore rupees for the Herald group of which he himself was the Chairman and Managing Director in 2010 when the deal matetialised. Vohra is also one of the shareholders of “Young Indian” with 12 percent stake, the other being the Congress leader Oscar Fernades (12 per cent). The Court also wondered how the Herald, which was debt ridden, transformed itself to be a profit making venture  in just one year after being taken over by Young Indian – it made a net profit of 27.4 crore rupees in 2011-12 (incidentally, the Herald House has given its floors on rent to various establishments, including the passport office that is managed by the Tata Consultancy Service).

However, as I have said, the Gandhis have not yet been declared guilty. I am sure the top legal brains of the Congress will argue how the issue is essentially an internal matter of the Congress, in the sense that the Gandhis had dominant shares in the National Herald too and how the publications, started by late Jawaharlal Nehru during the freedom struggle, were essentially the voices of the Congress party. May be the Courts will be convinced by this line of argument and dismiss the plea of Subramaniam Swamy, though the latter has strong legal merits. But as of now, the basic point is  that the case, which predates the Modi government, is completely under judicial purview  and has nothing to do with political manipulations by the Modi government against the Gandhi family that the Congress is making us to believe in.

Secondly, this is not a healthy sign for the Indian democracy, when the principal opposition party is virtually denigrating the judicial verdicts by turning them to be political footballs inside the Parliament. The Congress is ridiculing these judgments as the results of “the arm-twisting the judiciary by the Prime Minister’s Office”  and still insisting on the correctness of its approaches. The Herald case is not the only instance the point. After a Delhi Court clearly said that no case can be made against junior minister General VK Singh over its alleged comparison of the dogs with Dalits (the Court clearly said that conclusion that General Singh termed Dalits to be dogs is too farfetched), the Congress stalls the proceedings demanding the sacking of General Sigh not only as a minister but also as a Member of the Parliament.