I-T dept raids Karnataka minister hosting Gujarat Cong MLAs in resort
Tax officials raided on Wednesday multiple properties linked to DK Shivakumar, a top minister in Karnataka who is hosting a group of party legislators from Gujarat to avoid a break in their ranks ahead of a close Rajya Sabha election.
Tax officers raided 64 places in Delhi and Karnataka linked to energy minister Shivakumar as part of investigations into his alleged tax evasion and dodgy investments in real estate.
The move triggered an angry response from the Congress, which accused the BJP of carrying out “an unprecedented witch-hunt”. Party leaders raised the matter in parliament, protesting noisily and forcing multiple adjournments in the Rajya Sabha. In Lok Sabha, the party also staged a walkout.
The Congress has accused the BJP of using “money and muscle power” to engineer defections among its legislators in Gujarat, where senior party leader Ahmed Patel is seeking re-election to the Rajya Sabha, on August 8.
But the government said the ‘Eagleton – The Golf Village’, where the Gujarat legislators were camping, had not been raided. Finance minister Arun Jaitley told Parliament that only Shivakumar, who was trying to “hide behind the cover” of the lawmakers at the resort, had been taken for questioning.
Jaitley told the Lok Sabha that tax officials found that Shivakumar was tearing up documents at the resort. “We recovered those papers as well,” he said.
As the Congress accused the government of using its agencies such as CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Income Tax to target the opposition leaders, Jaitley said, “Whether it is a use or abuse, it depends on recovery (from the raids).”
Last week, the Congress flew 42 legislators to a resort on the outskirts of the capital of Karnataka, where the party is in power, to keep the flock together. Six of its legislators have quit the party and three of them crossed over to the BJP. More defections can jeopardise Patel’s chances of re-election.
Party spokesman and Gujarat MLA Shaktisinh Gohil contradicted the BJP, saying tax officials entered their resort.
Ashok Gehlot, Congress’ Gujarat in-charge, said: “Our MLAs are being threatened, money was offered and raids are being conducted.”
His party colleague Anand Sharma said: “There is a trend now of abusing state power and agencies of the state. The timing is important and significant. This minister was coordinating the safety of the MLAs.”
Shortly after the raids began, Patel hit out at the BJP in tweets: “BJP is on an unprecedented witch-hunt just to win one Rajya Sabha seat.”
Congress’s leader in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad asked why the raids were “taking place today and not a month later or before”.
But an I-T department statement later denied the raids were related to the stay of the Gujarat MLAs. It said the searches were part of an evidence-gathering exercise.
“The search is a continuation of an investigation which has been in progress for a considerable period of time,” it said, adding the timing of the raids had been decided “well in advance”.
“There has been no contact with the MLAs [from Gujarat] and the search team.”
(With agency inputs)