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"Systematic Effort By PM To Cripple Congress Financially": Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi: Levelling a serious allegation against the government weeks before the Lok Sabha election, former Congress president Sonia Gandhi has said the Prime Minister has made a systematic effort to cripple the party financially. The same charge was made by senior leader Rahul Gandhi as well.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday, Mrs Gandhi said, "The issue we are taking up today is extremely serious. This issue affects not just the Indian National Congress, but our democracy itself, most fundamentally.  A systematic effort is underway by the Prime Minister to cripple the Indian National Congress financially. Funds collected from the public are being frozen and money from our accounts is being taken away forcibly."

The former Congress president's statement was a reference to the party's claim last month that the Income Tax Department had frozen ₹ 115 crore in its bank accounts following a tax demand of ₹ 210 crore as dues and penalty for the financial year 2018-19.

Days later, Congress leader Ajay Maken alleged that ₹ 65 crore had been withdrawn by the department from three of the party's accounts even though a petition against the claim was being heard by the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal. Earlier this month, the tribunal had refused to accept the party's petition to stop the department's action against its bank accounts. 

Mrs Gandhi said, "However, even under these most challenging circumstances, we are doing our very best to maintain the effectiveness of our election campaign. On the one hand, there is the electoral bond issue, which has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The electoral bonds have benefited, as everyone knows, the BJP hugely, massively. 

"On the other hand, the finances of the principal opposition party, are under a determined assault. This, we all believe, is unprecedented and undemocratic," she added. 

During Thursday's press conference, Mr Maken said in Hindi that the "assault" on Congress' bank accounts was an attack on democracy. "If the principal opposition party is completely financially crippled and can't spend on publicity, on its campaign and can't give money to its candidates, then why are the elections being held," he asked. 

Mr Maken said the Congress has not been able to use ₹ 285 crore lying in its accounts and had also received a new notice last week pertaining to the year 1994-95. "At this rate, they will go back to Mahatma Gandhi's time, when Jamnalal Bajaj was the treasurer, and cull out something to send us a notice about and freeze our accounts before the elections."

‘Ability To Fight Damaged'

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the Congress' financial identity was “erased” a month ago. “This has been done literally two months before the election. One notice comes from the 90s, one from six-seven years ago. Quantum amount? ₹ 14 lakh. And punishment? Our entire financial identity… Already, our ability to fight the election has been damaged. We have already lost a month.”

"This is a criminal action on the Congress party and this a criminal action done by the Prime Minister and the Home minister, it is very clear. This type of activity does not happen without them in today's India... This has been orchestrated to cripple us in the elections. And no court is saying anything. The Election Commission isn't saying anything. No institution is saying anything," he claimed. 

Responding to a question on the controversy over his "shakti" remark, Mr Gandhi said, "We are fighting against hatred-filled 'asura-shakti'". During a rally, the Congress leader had said "we are fighting against a shakti" and then clarified that he was not talking about a religious power but the shakti of corruption and falsehood. PM Narendra Modi and several other BJP leaders had, however, hit out at Mr Gandhi and accused him of insulting Hinduism. 

Source: NDTV

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