A combative Congress stalled proceedings in both Houses of Parliament on Tuesday after a court summoned its top two leaders in the National Herald funds misuse case, as the opposition party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government of pursuing “vendetta politics”.
The fresh standoff between the Congress and the ruling side has cast a shadow on the government’s legislative and reforms agenda in the Parliament’s ongoing winter session including the passage of the crucial goods and services tax (GST) bill.
The tone for the party’s aggression inside and outside Parliament was set by a defiant Congress president Sonia Gandhi who invoked late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s legacy to underscore that she was not afraid of facing the courts.
“I am the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anyone. I am not disturbed,” she said soon after an emergency party meeting in the Parliament House.
Her son and deputy, Rahul Gandhi, accused the government of trying to silence him and said he saw political vendetta behind the developments.
“They can do whatever they want to. I am not going to budge even an inch,” he said in Chennai. “The same questions I am asking the Prime Minister or the government, I am going to continue asking them.”
Sonia, Rahul and a clutch of other Congress leaders may have to appear before a Delhi court on December 19 to face allegations that they illegally acquired property worth crores belonging to the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.
Congress MPs trooped into the well in both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, forcing repeated adjournments with their anti-Modi and anti-government slogans of “down with dictatorship” and “vendetta politics will not work”, as Sonia was seen marshalling the troops.
In the lower House, Trinamool Congress members supported the Congress lawmakers by protesting from their seats. The two Houses were finally adjourned for the day shortly after being reconvened at 3pm.
“The GST bill has gone for a sky walk,” said Anand Sharma, the Congress party’s deputy leader in the upper House.
At the meeting chaired by Sonia, Congress leaders equated the summons to Indira Gandhi’s arrest under the Janata government in October 1977 on corruption charges which were later rejected by the courts.
“Modi wants Congress-mukt Bharat and the first step towards that is to arrest Soniaji and Rahulji,” said a Congress MP who was present during the deliberations. “It is nothing but vendetta politics but we’ll fight it out through all means.”
An initial summoning order for Tuesday was passed on a petition by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, who alleged cheating and breach of trust in the acquisition of Associated Journals Limited (AJL) – the publisher of National Herald – by a company called Young India Limited (YIL), in which the Gandhis reportedly hold shares.
But a magistrate granted the Congress leaders exemption till December 19.
While party leaders said Sonia and Rahul have decided to appear before the city court on December 19, a move that they maintained would put the government in a “difficult” situation, sources did not rule out the Congress approaching the Supreme Court for relief.
Calling Subramanian Swamy “His Master’s Voice”, senior Congress leader and advocate Kapil Sibal alleged that the BJP leader has been specifically assigned to “persecute and prosecute” the Congress leadership and has been told to target them.
When pointed out that central ministers were questioning the Congress’ faith in the country’s legal system, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “We have not said anything against the court and we trust and believe and have full faith in our judiciary.”