- Opposition Congress party disrupts parliament over legal case
- Gandhis deny wrongdoing, say case is politically motivated
India’s month-long parliamentary session has hit yet another roadblock, risking further delays to a goods-and-services tax that is the centerpiece of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reform push.
This time around India’s opposition Congress party is protesting a court order for leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to testify in a corruption case filed by a member of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party. The complaint accuses the Gandhis of forming a company to cheaply acquire 20 billion rupees ($300 million) of property assets from a defunct newspaper that served as the Congress party’s mouthpiece for eight decades.
The Gandhis have denied wrongdoing and say the case is politically motivated. Modi’s camp says it has nothing to do with the proceedings and independent courts will determine what happened.
Here are some key questions and answers:
What is the National Herald?
The National Herald was established in the 1930s by Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and the patriarch of the Gandhi dynasty. Owned by the Associated Journal Ltd., the paper presented the views of the Indian National Congress, the political party that led India’s fight for independence against the British and has ruled the country for most of its history. The newspaper stopped printing in 2008 when its deteriorating balance sheet forced it to close.
How are the Gandhis involved?
In 2010, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi created Young Indian Co. in which they held a 76 percent stake, according to a criminal complaint filed by BJP lawmaker Subramanian Swamy. Young Indian then took control of Associated Journal Ltd. by acquiring its 900-million rupee ($13.5 million) debt to the Congress party for 5 million rupees and converting that into equity, the complaint said. That left the Gandhis in control of 20 billion rupees worth of real estate assets held by Associated Journal, it said. The court says it found grounds to investigate the complaint further. Congress party leaders defended the Gandhis on Tuesday, saying they didn’t benefit personally from the transaction and only sought to revive the newspaper.
What does this have to do with parliament?
Just when it looked like a compromise on GST was in reach, the court’s order for the Gandhis to testify on Dec. 19 appears to have pushed things back further. Congress party lawmakers see the case as political, so they are using it to block bills in a parliamentary session scheduled to run through Dec. 23. Parliamentarians rushed the well in both houses of parliament on Tuesday, accusing Modi of “vendetta politics.” When asked about the case, Sonia Gandhi told reporters, “I am the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi. I am not scared of anyone.”
What’s at stake?
A guilty verdict could land the Gandhis in prison for as many as seven years, which would throw India’s most decorated political party into disarray. In the more immediate term, it threatens to further setback Modi’s reform agenda. Given that the case is in the courts, there is little the prime minister can do apart from somehow seeking to delay the proceedings, said Sudha Pai, a professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. “This case and the response are just pure politics, which is more rhetoric than substance," Pai said. “That’s bad for the economy, bad for passing reforms and for winning foreign investment."