Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi were on Saturday granted bail by a Delhi court in the National Herald case in which they have been accused of illegally acquiring property worth crores of rupees belonging to a now defunct newspaper.
Metropolitan magistrate Lovleen granted bail to the Gandhis and three other accused, Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes and Suman Dubey, on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each and one surety each in a hearing that lasted nearly 15 minutes. The Gandhis arrived accompanied by senior party leaders and alighted from their vehicles about 200 metres from the court complex, completing the remaining journey on foot and waving at people along the way.
“I appeared before the court like any law-abiding citizen. The truth will come out,” Sonia Gandhi told reporters at the Congress headquarters minutes after obtaining bail.
While the Gandhi have sought no exemption, Sam Pitroda given exemption due to his medical condition #NationalHerald— Avantika Mehta (@bitingfriends) December 19, 2015
“The current government is targeting its rivals and we will continue to fight... Ye log hamein kabhi apne raaste se hata nahi paayenge, kendra sarkar jaan boojh kar hamein nishana bana rahi hai (these people will never be able to deter us from our path, the central government is targeting us on purpose),” she said.
Rahul kept up the attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government. “Modi-ji makes false allegations and he thinks the Opposition will bend. I will not bend, Congress won’t bend,” he said. “We will keep fighting for the poor and as an Opposition party, not move back an inch.”
During the hearing that started at 3 pm amid tight security arrangements, the court also rejected complainant Subramanian Swamy’s objection that “they are influential and can flee” the country.
“They are reputed people with deep political grassroots and there is no apprehension that they will flee,” the judge remarked while posting the case for further hearing on February 20 next year. This means the Gandhis won’t have to inform the court before travelling abroad.
However, Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and the other accused have not applied for exemption from personal appearance for the next date of hearing that will be held a few days before the budget session of Parliament.
The first court appearance by the Gandhis in connection with the case saw senior leaders, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, AK Antony and Mallikarjun Kharge apart from Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in full strength to support their leaders.
A few kilometres away from the Patiala House court, hundreds of slogan-shouting Congress workers, a large number of them from Rae Bareli and Amethi, the Lok Sabha constituencies of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul respectively, had gathered at the party headquarters at 24, Akbar Road, as a mark of solidarity with their leaders.
Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, said in a Facebook post, “Politics of vendetta and desperate malicious attempts of defamation, will not be believed ... Truth shall prevail,” as he came out in support of the Gandhis.
Congress workers organised protests in several parts of the country, including Mumbai, Patna, Kanpur, Jaipur, Bhopal, Bengaluru and Lucknow. Though Congress leaders maintained that they will fight the case legally, the party is planning to project the issue as “the Modi’s government’s political vendetta” and fan out into the states as part of its long-term strategy.
But the BJP asked the Congress not to politicise a court matter. “We do not want to comment on what happened inside the court but we will like to speak on comments made and drama done outside. There is always fight against corruption but this is the first time in the country’s history that we can see this fight for corruption, that too in a very shameful manner. It seemed they were not accused but some freedom fighters,” Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
Antony stood surety for Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka for her brother, Azad for Fernandes, Ajay Maken for Dubey, and BK Hariprasad for Vora. Former PM Singh stood in solidarity with the Gandhis, saying the party “will give a determined fight because we stand for certain ideals”.
Swamy, however, rejected allegations that he had filed the case against the Gandhis in connivance with Modi. “I have never spoken to the PM on this matter,” he said.
Swamy came under attack as the Congress dubbed him as “the PM’s stooge” and “the mask of the BJP”. The Congress questioned the allotment of a government bungalow in his name. “The BJP functionary has been awarded with a bungalow for dragging the Congress leadership to court even though he is not a Parliamentarian or government official,” Azad said.
The court, which held the proceedings in a closed room, also asked Swamy to bring all relevant documents on the next date of hearing.