The political maneuvering behind India’s anti-graft raids


Indians are cautiously welcoming the ongoing anti-corruption raids on opposition party leaders and their families.

Yet while some view them as proof of the federal government’s resolve to fight corruption, others see what has been happening as amounting to a political vendetta by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The selective targeting and timing of the raids ahead of opposition plans to forge a grand alliance to fight the 2019 national elections raise suspicion about the government’s true intentions. Some allege they are being conducted simply to divide the opposition parties.

The troubles started last week with a Delhi High Court ruling clearing the way for income tax proceedings against top Congress party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in the National Herald case.

The Congress party suffered another blow on Tuesday when Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) officials raided the home of former finance minister P Chidambaram’s son, Karti Chidambaram, in Chennai, over suspected foreign exchange violations.

Chidambaram already faces an investigation over his role in the Aircel-Maxis case. It is alleged he gave illegal clearance to the Malaysian firm Axis to buy Aircel, a mobile network operator based in Gurgaon, in Haryana state, through foreign direct investment in 2006.

Tuesday’s multiple raids were conducted to ascertain whether Chidambaram misused his position as finance minister in 2007 to facilitate kickbacks for his son by clearing foreign investment payments worth Rs3,050 million (US$47 million) to a media firm, INX.

India's Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi (left) listens to her son and lawmaker Rahul Gandhi at a function in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

India’s Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi (left) listens to her son and lawmaker Rahul Gandhi at a function in New Delhi. Photo: Reuters

Cases of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption have been filed against Karti, who is a director of Chess management Services Ltd, and others.

Chidambaram and his party are crying foul. But Congress did not act against Karti when the same corruption charges were leveled against him in 2012, when the party was in power.

The ongoing raids give a stern message that no corrupt politician can escape punishment after looting taxpayers’ money.

Multiple raids

Sonia’s staunch supporter, the former federal minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, and his children, have also faced multiple raids by income tax (IT) officials over shady land deals worth Rs 10,000 million (US$155 million) and over the recycling of “black” money through shell companies.

Prasad, who is leader of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) party and formerly chief minister of Bihar, was jailed in 2013 for his key role in looting Rs9,500 million (US$ 147 million) from the state treasury by producing fake receipts for fodder, medicines and equipment for “imaginary” livestock.

His son, the incumbent deputy chief minister of Bihar, Tejaswi Yadav, and daughter, Chanda Yadav, face tough questions over their holdings in the shell companies Fairgrow Holdings and AB Exports. Tejaswi did not mention the companies in his affivadit to the Election Commission while filing his nomination paper.

The IT raids on the Yadavs’ properties also raise the question of whether the BJP is trying to break the RJD-Janata Dal United (JD-U) coalition’s rule in Bihar.

Since Prasad has made no secret of his hatred for the BJP, it is reasonable to assume that the saffron party may be trying to finish him off politically by forcing JD-U to ditch RJD and forge ties with the BJP.

The Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who leads the Aam Aaadmi Party (AAP), is in trouble, meanwhile, after a sacked minister, Kapil Mishra, alleged he saw Kejriwal accepting Rs20 million in cash from another minister. AAP members think the BJP is using Mishra to destroy the party, which was founded in 2012 to fight corruption.

Banerjee described the tapes as part of a “communal and political” conspiracy by BJP to malign her government

Kejriwal, who has prime ministerial ambitions, wants to push the Modi government from power. But his party, mired in criminal cases, was unable to give the BJP much of a challenge in recent local polls.

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who is chief of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) party and another vocal opponent of Modi, is likewise on the back foot after a news portal, Narada News, released video of sting operations in which they snared a TMC lawmaker into accepting a bribe and caught a former party general secretary asking reporters for a stake in the firm they were posing as representatives of.

Banerjee described the tapes as part of a “communal and political” conspiracy by BJP to malign her government.

Sonia, Rahul, Prasad, Tejaswai, Kejriwal and Mamata are all in denial mode and blame the BJP for the mess they are in. They may be partially right. However they cannot cite any corruption charges against the BJP during its three years of rule.

The BJP wants to prove through the raids that it is cracking the whip on corrupt leaders. The party will likely have the advantage if it is able to sustain its anti-corruption drive going into the general election in two years’ time.

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