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Congress mounts pressure on Modi-led govt, sees ‘payback time’ as it ups ante over PNB fraud case

Congress leaders claim the escape of Nirav Modi, the diamond jeweller who is the main accused in the fraud, has hit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image, with party president Rahul Gandhi leading the charge.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2018 23:16 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
PNB fraud case,Rahul Gandhi,Congress
Youth Congress protest against Nirav Modi and the Punjab National Bank fraud case in New Delhi on Wednesday. (PTI Photo)

The Congress says it will continue mounting pressure on the Narendra Modi government over the Rs 11,400-crore Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud, stepping up protests across the country in weeks to come.

Party leaders say this is “payback time”, and cite how the BJP stormed to power in 2014 by accusing the Congress of corruption. “While 2G was an imaginary scam, this is a real one where the people have been swindled of their hard-earned money. The BJP government even allowed the person responsible to escape,” said Youth Congress president Raja Amarinder Singh Brar. “This is definitely payback time.”

The main opposition party has already hit the streets to protest against the fraud, clubbing it with the fleeing of former IPL czar Lalit Modi and liquor baron Vijay Mallya. It has also directed all its units to organise protests and news conferences across the country over the next one month.

Congress leaders claim the escape of Nirav Modi, the jewellery designer who is the main accused in the fraud, has hit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s image. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the charge against the Prime Minister, has made corruption the primary focus of his election speeches in Tripura, Meghalaya and Karnataka. He has also unleashed a string of tweets questioning Narendra Modi’s silence on the Rafale deal and the escape of the three scam-tainted businessmen.

“Who is accountable? This is the question asked by the common people on the streets of this country. Was the chowkidar (watchman) sleeping while people looted and scooted?” questioned Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala, referencing Modi’s comment in an election rally in 2013 that he would be a chowkidar and ensure no corruption happened on his watch if he became Prime Minister.

Claiming that a “gigantic banking fraud of such a proportion was unheard of”, Surjewala said the responsibility lies “fairly and squarely” at the Prime Minister’s doorstep. “Can the Prime Minister escape responsibility by keeping mum or maintaining a stoic silence on the issue? We are seeing a pattern similar to the Lalit Modi, Vijay Mallya and Rafale issues here,” he said.

He added that the Congress would hold Narendra Modi accountable both inside and outside Parliament.

The Congress and Left parties have already indicated that they will press for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged banking fraud. The Trinamool Congress, however, opposed the idea – arguing that a parliamentary probe will only delay the process of exposing the truth.

“JPC is not a solution,” said Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien.

O’Brien cited eight major JPCs set up since Independence to investigate the Bofors scam (1987), Harshad Mehta case (1992), Ketan Parekh share market scam (2001), soft drinks pesticide controversy (2003), 2G spectrum issue (2010), VVIP chopper scam (2013), land acquisition scam (2015) and the FRDI Bill (2017) to drive home his point. “Did any of these JPCs yield any concrete results? While some reports are still awaited, others have not been fully implemented, and action is still pending in yet others,” he said.

Although the Congress is on an overdrive, political experts believe it needs more evidence to maintain a sustained drive against the BJP. “They (the Congress) are just saying the most obvious things. Not enough research has been done to bring out fresh evidence and new angles,” said Delhi-based political analyst Bhaskar Rao. “They need to do so to gain ground.”

First Published: Feb 21, 2018 23:16 IST