New Delhi: From the moment Income Tax personnel, accompanied by the Central Reserve Police Force personnel, swooped down on premises of key aides of Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath early on Sunday morning, some alleged it was politically motivated.
A tweet by BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya on Monday morning, pegging the amount seized at Rs 281 crores, has given this allegation some weight. At 10:53 am on Monday, Vijayvargiya tweeted said: “Madhya Pradesh mein tabaadla express patri sey utarney key karan durghatnagrasth. Jaan ka koi nuksaan nahi lekin 281 crore key maal key nuksaan ka anumaan.” (Transfer Express in MP has derailed, loss expected at 281 crore estimated).
A confirmation from the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) came several hours later. The CBDT said searches were carried out by 300 IT officials at 52 locations in four states, yielding unaccounted cash of Rs 14.6 crore “so far”.
The CBDT also said “cash was also transferred to the headquarter of a major political party in Delhi, including about Rs 20 crore which was moved through hawala recently to the headquarter of the political party from the residence of a senior functionary at Tughlaq Road, New Delhi.”
The raids revealed that “cash book recording unaccounted transactions of Rs 230 crore, siphoning off money through bogus billing of over Rs 242 crore and evidence of more than 80 companies in tax havens. Also, several unaccounted/ benami properties at posh locations in Delhi have been detected.”
‘Precise knowledge an indicator of involvement’
So how did Vijayvargiya know the precise amount even before the CBDT announced it? The top MP leaders of the Congress are asking this question, miffed at Central agencies being used to score political points in the midst of the Lok Sabha election season.
In New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala quipped that there were “four campaigners for BJP – Narendra Modiji, Amit Shahji, Enforcement Directorateji and CBIji.” He insisted that raids by the Enforcement Directorate have been reduced to a farce, as the agency is being “flagrantly utilised to tarnish and malign the reputation of political opponents through fake means and fabricated raids”.
In Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath’s media coordinator Narender Saluja questioned how a BJP leader knew the value of items seized before it was announced. “What kind of collusion is this?” he asked, accusing the BJP of trying to tarnish the image of the Congress.
Raids began at 3 am on Sunday
The raids on Kamal Nath’s aides were simultaneously launched at 52 locations in four states, including Delhi and Madhya Pradesh. His former officer on special duty Pravin Kakkar and former advisor Rajendra Miglani were among those raided.
The IT department said it conducted raids after receiving credible information about tax evasion. Within the first 12 hours of the raids, Rs 9 crore in cash was recovered.
Kamal Nath responded angrily to the raids, saying, “Entire country knows how and against whom they (BJP) have been using constitutional bodies for the past five years.” He said these agencies were being used to frighten the opposition.
Union minister Arun Jaitley defended the action, saying “the Election Commission and the revenue authorities, both separately and acting jointly” were “trying to curb the use of black money in elections.” He said these actions have been particularly significant in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Northeast and Madhya Pradesh.
EC cautions finance ministry
However, the same evening, the Election Commission “strongly advised” the finance ministry that any action by its enforcement agencies during the election season should be “neutral” and “non-discriminatory”. The poll panel also wanted its officials to be kept in the loop about such actions.
The finance ministry has recently conducted nearly 55 raids, most of which have targeted opposition politicians and their aides.
In February, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee staged an indefinite sit-in after CBI officials tried to enter the residence of then Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar to question him in the Saradha chit fund scam case. Banerjee accused the BJP of political vendetta and claimed her agitation was to “save democracy, Constitution and the country”.
Late in March, it was Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy who criticised the BJP for playing a “revenge game” after IT officials, accompanied by CRPF personnel, raided the residence of Janata Dal (Secular) leader C.S. Putturaju in Mandya district.
The CM tweeted: “PM @narendramodi’s real surgical strike is out in the open through IT dept raids. The constitutional post offer for IT officer Balakrishna helped the PM in his revenge game. Highly deplorable to use govt machinery, corrupt officials to harass opponents during election time.”
Earlier this month, Andhra Pradesh CM Chandrababu Naidu protested in Vijaywada the “selective searches” by Income Tax authorities on senior Telugu Desam Party leaders.
Use of central forces a point of discord
In all these raids, the Centre used its own forces to escort the raiding teams, leading to altercations between these personnel and state police.
Kumaraswamy also questioned the IT authorities’s decision to not use the state police for the raids, when that was usually the norm. “Getting the CRPF personnel from outside to conduct raids… This will not continue for long and they should realise it. I am not protecting anybody and I will not allow vengeance politics of any kind here. If they continue in this manner I will have to protest like West Bengal chief minister [Mamata Bannerjee],” he cautioned.
In Madhya Pradesh, where nearly 150 CRPF personnel from Delhi accompanied the IT officials, there was a confrontation with the state police. There was a heated exchange of words, as local police officers rushed to thwart the raids. The governor has since asked both the forces for their response.