PM Relief Fund money given to Rajiv foundation, says BJP
In a series of tweets, BJP president JP Nadda said “one family’s hunger for wealth” hurt the nation, and also accused the Congress of committing a “brazen fraud” by diverting public money into a “family-run foundation”.Updated: Jun 27, 2020 06:16 IST
The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) donated money to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) — a trust chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi — when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power at the Centre, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said on Friday, launching a fresh broadside against the opposition party in an ongoing war of words.
In a series of tweets, BJP president JP Nadda said “one family’s hunger for wealth” hurt the nation, and also accused the Congress of committing a “brazen fraud” by diverting public money into a “family-run foundation”. His allegations came a day after the BJP said both the Chinese government and the Chinese embassy in India contributed to RGF.
“PMNRF, meant to help people in distress, was donating money to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in UPA years. Who sat on the PMNRF board? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Who chairs RGF? Smt. Sonia Gandhi. Totally reprehensible, disregarding ethics, processes and not bothering about transparency,” Nadda tweeted.
He also posted images of lists of donors to RGF for the years 2007-2008 and 2005-2006 to back his claim. The list included several state-owned companies, including the State Bank of India and GAIL, and ministries including the ministry of home affairs and the ministry of health.
The Congress was quick to hit back after Nadda’s tweets, saying the BJP was playing a “diabolical game of deception” to divert attention from what it called “Chinese occupation” of Indian territory — a claim that came against the backdrop of a simmering dispute between India and China over the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC).
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.
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.
“One family’s hunger for wealth has cost the nation immensely. If only they have devoted their energies towards more constructive agenda. The Congress’ Imperial Dynasty needs to apologise to the unchecked loot for self-gains!” Nadda tweeted, referring to the Nehru-Gandhi family.
“People of India donated their hard-earned money to PMNRF to help their fellow citizens in need. To divert this public money into a family run foundation is not only a brazen fraud but also a big betrayal of the people of India,” he said in a third tweet.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, too, sought a response from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, saying she was “no queen” and should explain the charges against her. Patra said PMNRF donated money to RGF three times when the Congress-led UPA was in power.
Sonia Gandhi, as Congress chief, was on the board of PMNRF and also headed RGF, Patra said, alleging that she had “written the script of corruption in the country”.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and P Chidambaram are trustees of RGF, which was set up in June 1991.
The Congress said the BJP is trying to shift the focus from the Chinese issue. “The diabolical game of deception, diversion and disinformation is being played out by the BJP and JP Nadda to divert the attention of the country from the Chinese occupation of Galwan Valley, Pangong Tso and now Depsang up to the Y-junction, 18km inside the LAC,” Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
In the statement, Surjewala pointed out that the BJP and the government “keep referring to a 2005 grant of ~1.45 crores received from Embassy of China to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation for the purpose (i) Disabled Persons Welfare Programme; and (ii) Research on Sino-India relationships”.
He added that RGF accounts were duly audited and statutory returns were filed under the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act (FCRA) to the Indian government. “This grant has been duly reflected in all filings to the income tax and the Home Ministry and no authority has ever found any wrongdoing of any nature,” the statement added.
“Pursuant to the unprecedented Tsunami in the last week of 2004, RGF received a modest amount of ~20 lakh from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund in the Financial Year 2005 which was duly utilised to undertake relief activities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands,” it said.
On Thursday, the BJP — led by Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad —alleged that RGF pushed for a free trade agreement between India and China, leading to a huge trade deficit skewed in favour of Beijing.
Prasad said: “There is a pattern as to why the Congress party does not condemn China because the 10 years’ rule of the Manmohan Singh government is littered with various evidence as to how the Congress party tried to support China and make it earn tonnes of money by permitting the increase of trade deficit 33 times.”
Nadda alleged that RGF accepted $300,000 from China and the Chinese embassy in 2005-06 for conducting studies that were not in national interest. “There is a secret understanding between the Congress and China.”
In its response on Thursday, the Congress said the BJP was engaging in diversionary tactics, questioned it on visits and exchanges between the BJP and the Communist Party of China (CPC) over the past decade, and alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared a “strange bonhomie” with China even as the borders were insecure.
Political scientist Neelanjan Sircar said: “Given the outsized importance and competitiveness of Chinese businesses in the Asian business environment, every politician and bureaucrat has needed to engage with them — regardless of the party. That does not mean that anyone, BJP or Congress, has given preferred access.”