Politics

The Congress Prepares for a Court Appearance Like No Other

New Delhi: The Congress leadership is in two minds on whether to turn party president Sonia Gandhi’s Patiala House court appearance on Saturday a grand tamasha with shouting and screaming Congressmen on the sidelines or to make it into a quiet and sedate affair.

It is learnt that on the advice of the SPG and other security inputs, the Saturday court hearing may be shifted from Patiala House to the annexe of Vigyan Bhawan, where access can be controlled and where security arrangements can be made more meaningful. Vigyan Bhawan is not far from  10 Janpath and 24 Akbar Road – the residence of the Congress president and its national office respectively – and is seen to be a better location with the government apprehending that the Congress would like to make the Saturday court appearance into a big political drama. It may be recalled that former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao also had his court hearings in the Lakhubhai Pathak case there, for security reasons.

Sources said a late night meeting today will take a final call on the party’s strategy with Congress leaders now contradicting media reports that the Gandhis will not take bail. Party spokesman chairman Surjewala said all legal remedies and options are open, including bail. He said the congress had full faith and respect for the judiciary.

It had earlier been disclosed that MPs, party office bearers, CWC members, CLP leaders and PCC presidents along with a large number of workers had been asked to assemble at 24 Akbar road from where there would be a march to Patiala house courts with thousands marching behind the Gandhis, in what was seen to be a huge security nightmare for the SPG and other security agencies.

But now the party’s leader of the opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad has said that no leader should come to Delhi on that date.
A senior congress leader known to be privy to the party’s strategy on key issues was categorical when he said, “there will be no hype. We have decided against it”.

The Congress party’s legal team on the case including Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Singhvi will take a final call on the issue of seeking bail or not, purely on the basis of legal arguments and the strengths and weaknesses of the case and not on emotional or political reasoning. The court has summoned seven persons to appear in person in connection with the National Herald case including the mother and son team of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

Party sources said it is felt that too much hype and drama with the streets filled with emotionally charged Congressmen may antagonize the judiciary and be counter productive for the Congress leadership.

It is learnt that Rahul Gandhi has been flexing his muscles saying he is not afraid of anyone and dares the government to do its worst, but Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders feel the party must adopt a more practical, constructive and non destructive approach since this is not a political case but one of corruption as alleged by Subramaniam Swamy who has charged the Gandhis with forming a shell company and transferring property worth over Rs 2000 crores in the company, 76 per cent of which is owned by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. These are all properties bought all over the country in the name of National Herald, a newspaper started by Jawaharlal Nehru but which was closed down by Sonia Gandhi.

What has considerably compounded the problem for the Gandhis is the appearance of senior lawyer and congress-baiter Shanti Bhushan who owns shares in the company called Associated Journals which brought out the National Herald. These shares were owned by his father. Along with this other small or marginal shareholders have also surfaced with the same refrain: they were neither informed nor consulted nor any general body meeting called before the transfer of the properties to the shell company Young Indian which was floated with a basic capital of just Rs 50 lakhs.

Lawyers say the case could drag on for years together, making it difficult for the Gandhis to be rid of the whole issue.
Within the congress, fingers are being pointed towards senior leader Hansraj Bhardwaj, who has had a major falling out with the Gandhis, for landing them in this mess. Bhardwaj was a man of confidence of 10 Janpath and Sonia Gandhi and was handling their legal matters in the past along with the issue of Quattrochi. He is known to have been the man who kept the judiciary on the right side of the party and the family but now, it looks as though his anger with the Gandhi family may make matters just that little bit difficult.

Sources say that the practical Sonia Gandhi would like to go by the advice of her lawyers and not create a drama which could be counter-productive for the family. A final decision is awaited on this.

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