Lok Sabha elections will go down in history for the widespread income tax raids carried out on political leaders and their associates.
The quirky part is that all these raids have been conducted on political opponents of the ruling BJP.
A pertinent question then arises: Are such raids an attempt to browbeat the political opponents? Since the Model Code of Conduct came into force on March 10, there have been at least 60 raids by agencies under the Union Finance Ministry. Where an opposition party has been in power, para military has been used instead of the State police in assisting Central agencies in carrying out raids.
The string of tax raids started with searches on the premises of people linked to the Congress-JDS coalition in Karnataka, moved to the homes of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s aides, and then to the premises of two former Tamil Nadu ministers belonging to the DMK as well as late DMK patriarch’s daughter Kanimozhi, in between making the rounds of the properties of BSP chief Mayawati’s aide and also those of a TDP MP and a TDP candidate in Andhra Pradesh.
Even if such raids are bona fide, why are these taking place during election time?
The timing is surely a suspect.
The opposition has alleged that the Narendra Modi government is using the tax department to harass them before the elections. “Why are selective raids being conducted? Everyone knows who has more money. Why is no action being initiated against BJP leaders whose files are pending with probe agencies. Is the prime minister only spying on its opponents,” asks Congress leader Ahmed Patel.
In the case of Kanimozhi, a candidate from Thoothukdi, the IT officials entered her premises around 8.30 pm, an unusual time since raids are rarely conducted after sunset. Also, the officials referred to her as the “candidate”, a term that finds no mention under the Income Tax Act. The tax officials’ reference to a person as a candidate against whom raids were being conducted gives rise to suspicion that such raids might have been carried out to intimidate political opponents.
In Karnataka, raids were conducted against Minister for Minor Irrigation C S Puttaraju and also against aides of Cabinet minister and Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s brother H D Revanna.
Is it a coincidence then that the raids came days after ‘The Caravan’ magazine published an article, suggesting that BJP State unit president B.S. Yeddyurappa had made payouts of about Rs 1800 crore to his national leaders during his term as chief minister from 2008 to 2011, and after the ruling alliance Congress made an issue out of it?
In fact, raids on the close aides of three Karnataka ministers, including Puttaraju and Revanna, were still being carried out weeks later, in connection with a money laundering case.
In Andhra Pradesh, raid were conducted on the house of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) Trust Board Chairman Putta Sudhakar Yadav, the TDP candidate from Mydukur, a day after Rs 315 crore worth of property belonging to a company owned by a former Union minister and TDP leader Y S Chowdary were attached by the ED in a money laundering case.
I-T officials also searched the house of TDP’s Rajya Sabha member C.M. Ramesh, a close aide of TDP President and Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu.
Raids were also conducted on the residence of the cost accountant of TDP leader and Guntur candidate Galla Jayadev.
In Madhya Pradesh, widespread raids were carried out against the aides of Congress leader and Chief Minister Kamal Nath. All these raids are going on despite the Election Commission’s strong directive to the Revenue Department to keep the raids political neutral and inform the poll body in advance before any such exercise is undertaken.
The Congress has termed the directive “too little, too late”. Just as the poll body had been assertive in imposing a ban on the campaigning of many leaders for their provocative statements, it also has to set a level-playing field in all aspects of polling for free and fair elections.
Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.