Jaitley takes up Swamy chorus — puts Cong in the dock
by Sanjay Singh Nov 2, 2012
Rahul Gandhi’s threat of legal action against Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy, who yesterday accused the Gandhis of a landgrab, does not appear to have cooled down Swamy’s ardour for a godawful scrap. Instead, it appears to have whetted the BJP’s appetite for a political dogfight.
The BJP’s most articulate voice, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, today came out in the open and sought answers from the Congress on some of the issues raised by Swamy. Jaitley kept his attacks at the legal level and said if the Congress party had indeed given a Rs 90 crore loan to write off the liabilities of Associated Journal Ltd, which owns Herald House in Delhi, then it could be an illegality and a violation of the conditions of registration of political parties with the Election Commission. Political parties are supposed to use their tax-free donations purely for political purposes and not for commercial purposes.
Swamy also alleged yesterday that the board of Associated Journal Ltd had decided in 2011 to allot all of its shares to Young Indian, a private non-profit company of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, escalating the fight to the top of the Congress party.
For his part, Jaitley chose to avoid references to Sonia and Rahul and instead voiced his concerns to them. He also cleverly pointed out that the diversion of political funds for commercial enterprises would be in violation of a legal amendment to the political contributions law brought in by Rajiv Gandhi himself.
Jaitley chose to focus only on one issue from Swamy’s platter of allegations against the First Family — but, in the process, he sent Congress spokespersons into a tizzy. Manish Tewari, Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, and senior Congress leader PC Chacko blasted Swamy for calumny and dared him to prove his allegations to the tax or other authorities.
According to information available with the Registrar of Companies, a 26 February 2011 resolution of Associated Journal Ltd, of which Congress Treasurer Motilal Vora is Chairman, noted that it had obtained a loan of Rs 90 crore from the Congress party.
Associated Journal, founded by Jawaharlal Nehru to publish National Herald and Quami Awaz, was allocated prime land in Delhi’s Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and in parts of Uttar Pradesh for producing newspapers. National Herald closed down and was taken over by a non-profit company, Young Indian, where Sonia and Rahul together hold 76 percent of the controlling equity. Young Indian does not intend to be in the newspaper publication business and has instead rented out the premises, Herald House, Swamy had charged.
If Swamy made all manner of accusations, Jaitley sought to disturb the Congress by escalating the issue over the specific point of the Rs 90 crore loan. He wanted a clear “Yes or No” answer from the Congress and does not intend to let the issue fade so easily. He was also sarcastic about the letter sent from Rahul Gandhi’s Office to Swamy, saying there had been no rebuttal to the disclosures made, and no specific answers. The letter merely called the charges as baseless. He said the Congress had not responded to even one allegation.
His argument is that as per the Election Commission’s terms of registration of political parties, they can use their financial resources obtained through donations only for political purposes. As per some amendments in the statue, first initiated by the Rajiv Gandhi government and later by the Vajpayee government, donors to political parties get income-tax exemptions on the amounts donated. Political parties get a tax exemption because they are expected to use the money for political purposes.
While the political fight between the Congress and the BJP is getting increasingly bitter, the legality of the issues could be interesting. Jaitley says it could have implications for the registration of the Congress as a political party and payment of income tax on the relevant donations.
As things stand, both the Congress and Swamy are daring the other to sue. The BJP is eager to milk the issue for what it is worth.