BJP, Congress trade fresh barbsUpdated: Jun 27, 2020, 23:40 IST
A war of words between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress over the Sino-India border dispute and alleged links between China and the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF), a trust chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, intensified on Saturday with allegations and counter-allegations flying thick and fast on both sides.
BJP president JP Nadda asked the principal opposition party a series of questions, reiterated allegations that RGF received donations from the Chinese embassy when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power at the Centre, said his party will leave no stone unturned in “exposing double-faced politicians”, and alleged that fugitive economic offender Mehul Choksi gave donations to the trust.
The BJP says both the Chinese government and the Chinese embassy in India have contributed to RGF, and even the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) donated money to the trust when the Congress-led UPA was in power.
“I want to tell Sonia Gandhi that under the garb of China and Covid-19 crisis, one should not shy away from answering the questions the nation wants to know... It’s a shame. It’s a sacrifice of national interest by accepting money from foreign powers in personal trusts,” Nadda said in a statement.
He alleged that RGF received donations from the Chinese embassy between 2005 and 2009 and from “tax havens” such as Luxembourg between 2006 and 2009. NGOs and companies with “deep commercial interests” also donated to the foundation, he said.
“Congress and corruption are synonymous,” Nadda said, asking the opposition party to come clean on its “links” with China and the details of its MoU (memorandum of understanding) with the Communist Party of China. He said India’s trade deficit with China soared to $36.2 billion in 2013-14 from $1.1 billion in 2003-2004, and asked if it was a “quid pro quo”. The Congress-led UPA was in power between 2004 and 2014.
Nadda also targeted former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, accusing him of allocating Rs 100 crore to the foundation as the finance minister in 1991, when India was going through its “worst financial crisis”.
Singh and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and P Chidambaram are trustees of RGF, which was set up in June 1991.
“RGF not only takes money from scams but also gives dodgy donations to their own organisations. Why did it turn donate money to Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust controlled by the family and Christian Missionary organisations like World Vision?” Nadda asked, referring to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
He alleged that RGF worked with the China Association for Internationally Friendly Contact, “which is just a vehicle of the Central Military Commission of China to infiltrate and influence top voices in other countries”.
He said the UPA government forced multiple ministries, including the home ministry and the health ministry, and public sector units such as SAIL, SBI, GAIL, and ONGC to donate to RGF. He also wondered how RGF, a private charitable trust, could function from Jawahar Bhawan, a prime location in the heart of Delhi.
“Why was a Congress man’s company auditing PMNRF? PMNRF auditor’s name is Thakur, Vaidyanathan and Aiyyar Co, founded by Mr Rameshwar Thakur (who was a Rajya Sabha MP for two terms, former MoS finance, and the governor of four states),” Nadda said.
In its reply, the Congress dared the ruling party to ask the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the BJP’s ideological mentor — and think-tanks Vivekananda International Foundation and India Foundation —considered pro-BJP — to disclose their source of funding and donors.
“Will the BJP disclose the source of funding, amounts received, name of donors [including of Chinese origin] for “Overseas Friends of BJP [OF-BJP]”?” Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala asked. “...What is the connection of Shri Rajkumar Naraindas Sabnani alias Raju Sabnani to OF-BJP?” he added. Sabnani is a businessman based in Hong Kong.
Surjewala said neither did RGF receive any donation from Choksi, wanted in the Punjab National Bank fraud case, and nor did it give him any loan to him. But the foundation received “a modest donation of Rs. 10 lakh from Naviraj Estates Pvt. Ltd. in 2013, of which Shri Choksi was one of the Directors”.
S Gurumurthy, the chairman of Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), said on Twitter its trust deed prohibits receipt of foreign donations. “...It permits donations from people of Indian origin associated with VIF. As yet no one has got associated and no donations have been received,” he said.
Earlier on Saturday, former Union minister P Chidambaram targeted Nadda in a series of tweets, a day after the BJP chief accused the Congress of committing a “brazen fraud” by diverting public money in PMNRF to a “family-run foundation”.
PMNRF was set up in 1948 by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, entirely with public contributions. It does not get any budgetary support. PMNRF resources are utilised primarily to give relief to families of those killed in natural calamities, and to victims of major accidents and riots, according to its website.
Chidambaram said Nadda “specialises in half-truths”, and pointed out that Surjewala “exposed his half-truths”.
In his rebuttal on Friday, Surjewala issued a statement saying the BJP and the central government “keep referring to a 2005 grant of Rs 1.45 crores” from the Chinese embassy to RGF for a disabled persons’ welfare programme and research on Sino-India relations. The statement also said after the 2004 tsunami, RGF received Rs 20 lakh from PMNRF for relief activities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
“What has the grant to RGF 15 years ago got to do with China’s intrusion into Indian territory in 2020 under the watch of the Modi government?
“Suppose RGF returns the Rs 20 lakh, will PM Modi assure the country that China will vacate its transgression and restore status quo ante?” Chidambaram asked.
The allegations and counter-allegations come against the backdrop of a face-off between India and China along the contested border. Twenty Indian Army soldiers and an undisclosed number of Chinese troops died in a brawl in eastern Ladakh’s Galwan Valley on June 15, ratcheting up tensions between the neighbours amidst a military build-up on both sides of the disputed border. While the Congress accuses the government of ceding ground to the Chinese, the ruling BJP says the opposition party is playing with issues of national security. The Congress also says the BJP is raking up the RGF donation issue to divert attention.