The ED justified questioning Kharge for almost seven hours at a time when the Parliament is in session as “unavoidable”, pointing out he was the CEO of Young Indian, a company that has only two shareholder-directors— Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.
Senior ED sources said they had given Kharge the option of sending an employee of Young Indian, but he could not since it had no employee. “Should the leader of the opposition take up serious responsibility for a company as its CEO? And who would represent the company if it has no employee when it is involved in an ongoing investigation?” one of the ED sources said.
Raising the matter in the Rajya Sabha, Kharge said that summons issued to him when the Parliament is in session was a ploy to “intimidate, harass and bully” the opposition, leading his Congress colleagues to attack the government for “trying to deter them from questioning its performance”. The Lok Sabha also witnessed similar protests while Rahul Gandhi levelled the same charge in Bengaluru.
With Kharge’s session with ED continuing until late evening, Congress repeated the harassment charge, with head of its media cell Jairam Ramesh emphasising that the Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha had planned to host a dinner for opposition’s VP candidate Margaret Alva.
“It’s been 6.5 hours and our senior leader and LoP Mallikarjun Kharge is still with ED. It is regretful, he was supposed to host a dinner at 7:30 pm for the opposition V-P candidate Margaret Alva,” he tweeted.
The Young Indian, in which Sonia and Rahul hold 76% stake, is being investigated for the web of transactions by which it ended up acquiring the assets worth Rs 800 crore of Associated Journals Limited by paying only Rs 50 lakh it had allegedly organised from a shell company through alleged money laundering. The ED team, according to sources, questioned Kharge extensively at Herald House, the registered office of YI, and recorded his statement after seizing a computer available at the YI office. It also questioned the security guard who is learnt to have told the investigators that the office has had no visitor for months, something that contradicted company’s claim in its filings before the registrar of companies of routinely holding meetings.
The agency is probing the money trail of Rs 90 crore claimed by Congress to have been given to the AJL for the latter to clear all dues towards employees and voluntary retirement benefits.
The Congress leaders during their questioning had told the ED probe team that all these transactions were in the exclusive knowledge of former Congress treasurer late Motilal Vora.
The ED’s summons to Kharge was raised by him in the RS saying it was done to “frighten and intimidate” the Congress party, a charge rejected as “baseless” by Leader of the House Piyush Goyal.
Raising the issue during the Question Hour amid uproar by Opposition members, Kharge asked whether it was fair on the part of the probe agency to summon him at a time when Parliament is in session.
He also said the residences of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Rahul Gandhi had been barricaded by police.
“If we carry on like this, will our democracy remain alive? Will we function as per our Constitution? This is being purposely done to demoralise us, destroy us and intimidate us,” he said.
Goyal said the government does not interfere in the functioning of law-enforcement agencies. “If anyone has done any wrong, the law will take its course. The Congress leaders and LoP should follow the law instead of running away,” Goyal said.
The opposition members kept raising slogans in the Well of the House as the chair carried on with the Question Hour amid the din.
Outside, Rahul Gandhi said he is not scared of the ED, nor of the Prime Minister. “These are attempts at intimidation. We will not be intimidated. We are not afraid of Narendra Modi. They may do whatever they want. It does not matter. I will continue to work to protect the country and democracy and maintain harmony in the country,” he said.
Later, he tweeted: “Truth cannot be barricaded. Do whatever you want, I am not afraid of the Prime Minister, I will always work in the interest of the country. Listen and understand!”
“We won’t be silenced. We will stand against what Narendra Modi ji, Amit Shah ji are doing in this country, against democracy, no matter what they do,” he said even as he rubbished BJP’s claims that Congress and its leaders will not be allowed to “run away” from the law.
“Who is talking about running away? They are talking about running away,” Gandhi said.
Slamming the opposition protest in Rajya Sabha, Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said, “We want every Indian family to prosper. We should not just think about only one family.”