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Chandigarh: A day after a video shared by the Congress on its official Twitter page fuelled speculation about the party projecting its current chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi as the chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming Punjab polls, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) held raids on the premises of property owned by Channi’s nephew and others in a three-year-old illegal sand mining case.
Later in evening, ED claimed seizure of Rs six crore cash, Rs four crore of which was allegedly seized from the residence of Channi’s relative, Bhupinder Singh, in Mohali.
The incident has however triggered a war of words with Congress accusing Bharatiya Janata Party of using central agencies to target political opponents. On the other hand, BJP has accused Congress of patronising and aiding the sand mafia in Punjab.
Congress leader Alka Lamba said in a tweet that it has become a practice for BJP to use central agencies during elections and cited instances.
CBI, ED & IT raids become a tool of the BJP govt during the elections.
1. IT raid at DMK chief M.K.Stalin's daughter just 2 days before the elections;
2. CBI raid at Abhishek Banerjee just one month before the elections.
3. ED raid at NCP chief Sharad Pawar before the elections.
— Alka Lamba (@LambaAlka) January 18, 2022
Lamba wrote how just before the West Bengal polls, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s nephew was targeted by CBI. An Income Tax raid were conducted in Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham chief M.K. Stalin’s daughter just two days before the elections in Tamil Nadu and there was similar case of an ED raid at Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar’s premises just before the Maharashtra elections, she said.
“Now when BJP is staring defeat in Punjab, ED raids are being used as a political tool here. Congress party has previously failed BJP agendas driven by undue use of power and baseless propagandas and will do it again,” she said.
Channi addressed reporters just after raids and said that through the raids at the premises associated with his nephew, BJP is targeting him and is trying to put pressure on him in view of the upcoming assembly polls. “This is not good for democracy. We’re ready to fight this,” he said.
Channi got support from senior Congress leader Sunil Jakhar who said in a tweet that the timing of the ED raid on a relative of Channi’s exposes intent to browbeat the chief minister and to damage the prospects of Congress Party.
It’s the timing of ED raid on relative of @CHARANJITCHANNI which exposes its real intent – to browbeat the CM and to damage the prospects of Congress Party.
A highly deplorable undemocratic act !
— Sunil Jakhar (@sunilkjakhar) January 18, 2022
On the other hand, BJP union minister and Punjab affairs in-charge Gajendra Singh Shekhawat tweeted that this episode has exposed how sand mafia and Congress are in hand in glove in Punjab.
चन्नी जी सफाई देने से पहले अपनी पार्टी के ही वरिष्ठ नेताओं से पूछ लें पंजाब में अवैध खनन माफिया किसकी शह पर इतना मजबूत हुआ है।
हम बोलेंगे तो बोलोगे कि बोलता है!#Punjab
— Gajendra Singh Shekhawat (@gssjodhpur) January 18, 2022
Using the hashtag #BJPfakeraid, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too jumped into the issue and said in a tweet that conducting an ED raid is BJP’s favourite weapon because they themselves have things to hide.
“Not everyone is like you. We have #NoFear,” he added.
Conducting an ED raid is BJP’s favourite weapon because they themselves have things to hide.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 18, 2022
2018 case dug up in 2022
While ED has not officially released details on where and why the raids were made, news reports revealed that the raids were at the residence of Channi’s nephew Bhupinder Singh in Mohali and others’ residences in Ludhiana and Pathankot districts.
The raids were part of the ED’s sudden interest in an FIR lodged nearly four years ago, on March 7, 2018, at Rahon police station in Nawanshahr district.
The FIR was registered after then chief minister Amarinder Singh, who is now in an alliance with the BJP, spotted illegal mining activities in Nawanshahr district while flying in his chopper to Kartarpur on March 6, 2018, said a mining official.
One Kudrat Deep Singh from Ludhiana was named along with 25 others in that FIR.
The ED reached the current chief minister’s kin’s residence on Tuesday, alleging there were business dealing between him and Kudrat.
The ED claimed Honey was among three directors in a firm owned by Kudrat, but has not clarified whether they were hand in glove in the illegal mining case or if the money seized from the chief minister’s kin was generated from illegal mining.
While Amarinder is silent following the ED raids, mining official B.D. Singh told The Wire that there has been no official communication from the ED on these raids. “We are gathering information from the ground,” he said.
The FIR registered in 2018 was registered under Sections 21(1) and 4(1) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957,and Sections 420 (punishment for cheating), 471 (whoever fraudulently or dishonestly uses as genuine), and 465 (punishment for forgery).
A Chandigarh-based advocate, requesting not to be named, told The Wire that since forgery and cheating has been one of the scheduled offences under PMLA, the ED must have invoked its vast powers under this act to conduct fresh raids in the mining issue.
According to media reports, Channi’s nephew was one of the directors in the firm which is being probed by the ED.
Raids expose Sidhu-Channi tussle again
The ED raid has, meanwhile, once again exposed the ongoing tug of war between Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Navjot Singh Sidhu and Channi over the nomination for the chief ministerial candidate’s post.
It became apparent when instead of commenting on the ED raid, Sidhu shared an article published in the The Tribune on Twitter. The piece was critical of the Punjab Congress government’s claims to put a rein on illegal mining and Channi’s recent announcement to reduce the sand prices.
Complete govt control over sand mining is the only solution. Punjab Model advocates to form Punjab State Mining Corporation to disband thekedari system and to sell sand at fixed rate, weight & date. As long as thekedari system exists people won’t have access to cheaper sand. pic.twitter.com/79RkDwYJSD
— Navjot Singh Sidhu (@sherryontopp) January 18, 2022
Sidhu’s comments come in the wake of Congress’s 36-second video in which actor Sonu Sood is seen saying that the real chief chief minister is one who is picked from the back benches and given responsibility, not the one who puts forward a claim for the seat.
The video then cuts to scenes of Channi holding and addressing several public meetings. The half-minute video has Channi appearing a dozen times with no appearance of Sidhu or any other leader.
The video is being seen as a direct snub to Sidhu, who has been at loggerheads with Channi even since the latter was made the chief minister in September, and has been pressuring the party high command to project him as the chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming polls instead.
Many believe Channi is being referred as “backbencher” that Sood, whose sister was recently fielded by the Congress from Moga, talked about in the video.
His Dalit credentials elevated him to the chief minister’s seat in September last year when the party forced his predecessor Captain Amarinder Singh to resign from the top post. Channi, as a minister in the Captain’s government too, had been among the group of people pushing for the Captain’s removal.
Channi is gaining ground as many Congress leaders have been backing him as the CM candidate.
Congress on the other hand has been telling the media not to read more into the video. AICC secretary in-charge Harish Chaudhary was quoted by Indian Express, saying that Congress will fight the elections under collective leadership.
To a question if the decision could be changed, he said, “There is nothing permanent in politics. But the party has made it clear that the election will be fought collectively.”