New Delhi: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was questioned for over 10 hours by the Enforcement Directorate in a money-laundering probe linked to the National Herald newspaper and was called to depose again on Tuesday as his party protested across the country alleging that the Centre was targeting the Opposition by misusing agencies.
Gandhi, who appeared before a central probe agency for the first time for questioning, arrived at the ED office at 11.10 am on Monday accompanied by a battery of leaders including sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and escorted by armed CRPF personnel. He was given an 80-minute break in the afternoon.
He left the ED office around 11.10 pm after questioning.
Hundreds of Congress workers in Delhi and state capitals took to the streets and several senior leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Randeep Surjewala and K C Venugopal, were detained here amid a massive show of strength by the party which had called for the Satyagraha march against the ED summons.
The top leaders of the party were released from police detention around 11.30 pm soon after Rahul Gandhi left the Enforcement Directorate office.
The principal opposition party alleged that the Delhi police made a “murderous attack” on its leader Venugopal and others, with former home minister P Chidambaram and Pramod Tiwari sustaining hairline rib fracture.
The Delhi Police said while no incident of injuries due to the use of force by police has come to its knowledge, it will diligently probe any such complaint and take appropriate action. It said 459 people were detained, including 26 MPs and five MLAs, and all women and functionaries have been released.
Lashing out at the government for “not allowing”‘ peaceful protest, Congress leaders said they would not kowtow to the Modi government and vowed to continue their agitation.
The BJP hit back at the Congress, accusing its leaders of putting pressure on the ED, supporting corruption and protecting the alleged assets worth Rs 2,000 crore of the Gandhi family.
Noting that nobody is above the law “not even Rahul Gandhi”, BJP leader and Union Minister Smriti Irani claimed that never before such a blatant attempt was made by a political family to hold a probe agency to ransom to protect its “ill-gotten” assets.
Gandhi, 51, went from the party headquarters on Akbar Road to the ED office in central Delhi, a few kilometres away, in a convoy of seven cars after walking for some distance with his supporters.
After about two-and-a-half hours, he left the ED office for a lunch break during which he met his mother Sonia Gandhi at the Ganga Ram Hospital, where she has been admitted, and returned at 3.30 pm.
Officials said he has been asked to appear before the ED again on Tuesday.
The former Congress president, a Z+ category protectee of the CRPF after the Union government withdrew the Gandhi family’s SPG cover in 2019, is expected to write down his statement, official sources said.
Prohibitory orders were imposed in parts of central Delhi that were heavily barricaded.
The ED is recording the statement of the Lok Sabha member from Wayanad in Kerala under criminal sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The probe is related to alleged financial irregularities in the party-promoted Young Indian that owns the National Herald newspaper, published by the Associated Journals Limited (AJL).
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are among the promoters and shareholders of Young Indian.
Rahul Gandhi is supposed to have been grilled about the incorporation of the Young Indian company, the operations of the National Herald and the fund transfer within the news media establishment.
“We are not scared. The Modi government should be ashamed that they have turned central Delhi into a fortress just because our leader is going to the ED with his supporters,” Indian Youth Congress President Srinivas BV told PTI near the ED office just before he was detained by the police.
Tempers rose as the day progressed with scenes of slogan shouting and Congress workers jumping barricades and resisting attempts by police to detain them.
Slogans such as “down down BJP”, and “we want justice” rang out in cities such as Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Guwahati, Jammu, Dehradun and Jaipur.
The party claimed it was starting Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Satyagraha’, peaceful resistance, again with the march against the Modi government.
A host of Congress leaders spoke out on the alleged harassment.
In a statement, the Delhi Police said that 15 members of Lok Sabha, including Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, 11 Rajya Sabha MPs, including KC Venugopal and Leader of Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge, five MLAs of different states and other functionaries were among the 459 detained in the New Delhi district for not following lawful directions of police for maintenance of law and order.
All woman workers and functionaries detained by police have been released, it said.
“Some complaints have been received at the Tughlak Road police station of New Delhi regarding injuries to Congress leaders and workers during police action but no such incident of use of force by police took place as per our knowledge and no MLC case has been reported so far,” said Sagar Preet Hooda, Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order, Zone -II Delhi).
“Still, if there are allegations of some manhandling or so during the detention, the same will diligently be looked into for appropriate action,” he said.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Gehlot alleged that the government was misusing central probe agencies and this was nothing but “political vendetta”.
“All leaders from Kerala to Kashmir are being targeted… Democracy is being throttled and we oppose it strongly,” Baghel said.
Asked whether the party would stage a similar show of strength on June 23 when Sonia Gandhi has been asked to appear before ED, Gehlot said, “The Congress is competent to deal with the situation”.
“This is a fight for democracy. The government is trying to muzzle the voices of opposition leaders,” added former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat.
“Now, a satyagraha will take place at every corner,” he added.
Surjewala said Congress leaders had done nothing wrong and alleged that “Godse’s descendants fear the truth and they will not be able to suppress the truth”.
Ahead of Rahul Gandhi’s appearance before the ED, brother-in-law Robert Vadra came out in his support and expressed confidence that he would be exonerated from all “baseless accusations”.
“I believe the truth will prevail and this harassment of the prevailing dispensation will not have the effect they desire,” he added.
The Congress party said in a press conference in the morning that all fund movements in this case were legitimate.
In April, the agency questioned senior leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Pawan Bansal as part of the investigation.
The questioning of the senior Congress leaders and the Gandhis is part of the investigation to understand the shareholding pattern, financial transactions and role of the promoters of Young Indian and AJL, officials had said.
The ED recently registered a fresh case under the criminal provisions of the PMLA after a trial court here took cognisance of an Income Tax Department probe against Young Indian Pvt Ltd based on a private criminal complaint filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy in 2013.
Swamy had accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds with Young Indian Pvt Ltd paying only Rs 50 lakh to obtain the right to recover Rs 90.25 crore that Associate Journals Ltd owed to the Congress.
The Delhi High Court in February last year issued a notice to the Gandhis for their response to Swamy’s plea seeking to lead evidence in the matter before the trial court.
The Gandhis had secured separate bails from the court in 2015 after they furnished personal bonds of Rs 50,000 and one surety. They contended in the Delhi High Court that the plea by Swamy was “misconceived and premature”.
The other accused in the case filed by Swamy are close Gandhi aides Suman Dubey and technocrat Sam Pitroda.
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