Sonia Gandhi says PM Modi using tax office to cripple opposition

Sonia Gandhi says PM Modi using tax office to cripple opposition
Sonia Gandhi says PM Modi using tax office to cripple opposition

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - NEW DELHI — India's main opposition Congress party has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of using the tax department to starve them of finances ahead of elections starting next month.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi said they had made "a systematic effort to cripple the party financially".

The party said freezing its accounts, which have 2.1bn rupees ($25m; £20m), was "unprecedented and undemocratic".

The BJP and the tax department is yet to respond to the allegations.

Congress made the accusations on Thursday at a press conference attended by party chief Mallikarjun Kharge, top leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and treasurer Ajay Maken.

India's general election will take place in seven phases over April and May. Opinion polls predict a win for Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, which is eyeing a record consecutive third term in power.

Last month, the Congress said its bank accounts had been frozen by the income tax (IT) department.

On Thursday, Maken said 11 party accounts were frozen and the 2.1bn rupees in them was put under lien - which means that they cannot be withdrawn or transferred.

"This is not the freezing of the India National Congress' bank accounts," Gandhi said. "This is the freezing of Indian democracy."

Mr Maken said the "unprecedented action" was because the tax authorities were owed 1.4m rupees.

"All political parties are exempt from income tax. Then why is only the Congress being penalized?" he asked.

The BBC has reached out to the tax department and the finance ministry for comment.

Mrs Gandhi said the party was unable to access the funds it had collected from the public and its workers. "Money from our accounts is being taken away forcibly," she said.

These actions were affecting the level-playing field necessary to hold the 2024 general elections, Kharge said, adding that it amounted to destroying democracy in India.

"We are unable to spend money on our election campaign, on advertisements and publicity, and to pay our party workers and to print campaign materials," he said.

"There are institutions in the country that are supposed to protect the democratic framework," Gandhi said. "However, no court is saying anything. The Election Commission is silent, no other institution is speaking out, and the media is not addressing the issue."

Congress party leaders also pointed out that their party was being crippled financially at a time when it had just been revealed that the BJP had benefited "hugely" from the now-illegal electoral bonds scheme.

Modi's government launched electoral bonds in 2018 saying it would make political funding more transparent. But the scheme allowed people and companies to donate money to parties anonymously.

Last month, India's Supreme Court banned the scheme, calling it "unconstitutional", and ordered the Election Commission to disclose donation details to the public.

This data showed that the ruling BJP was the biggest beneficiary of the scheme, securing almost half of the bonds worth 120bn rupees donated between 2018 and 2024. — BBC

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