India's opposition party says bank accounts frozen ahead of elections

Congress party President Mallikarjun Kharge, third right, addresses the media after suspended lawmakers marched outside the Parliament House in New Delhi, India. (Photo/AP)

India's main opposition Congress party has said that its bank accounts had been frozen by the tax department just weeks before the expected announcement of national elections.

Critics and rights groups have accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of using law enforcement agencies to selectively target its political foes.

Congress spokesman Ajay Maken said the action against his party was aimed at sidelining it ahead of the polls.

"When the principal opposition party's accounts have been frozen just two weeks before the announcement of the national elections, do you think democracy is alive in our country?" he asked reporters.

"Don't you think it is going towards one party system?" he added.

Four of Congress' accounts had been frozen after an investigation of the party's 2018-19 income tax returns, Maken said.

He added that the tax department had issued a payment demand for $25.3M in relation to its probe.

Maken conceded that the party had filed its returns late by up to 45 days but insisted it had done nothing to warrant such a penalty.

"Today is a sad day for Indian democracy," he said, adding that the party was appealing the decision in court and would stage public protests.

Friday's announcement follows numerous legal sanctions and active investigations against leading opponents of Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades, was convicted of criminal libel last year after a complaint by a member of Modi's party.

His two-year prison sentence saw him disqualified from parliament for a time until the verdict was suspended by a higher court, but raised concerns over democratic norms in the world's most populous country.

"Face the consequences"

Congress is a member of an opposition party alliance hoping to challenge Modi at this year's polls, and other leading figures in the bloc have also found themselves under investigation.

Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and chief minister of the capital region Delhi, has repeatedly been summoned by investigators probing alleged corruption in the allocation of liquor licences.

Earlier this month police arrested Hemant Soren, until then the chief minister of eastern Jharkhand state and another leading figure in the opposition alliance, for allegedly facilitating an illegal land sale.

India's main financial investigation agency, the Enforcement Directorate, has ongoing probes against at least four other chief ministers or their families, all of whom belong to the BJP's political opponents.

Other investigations have been dropped against erstwhile BJP rivals who later switched their allegiance to the ruling party.

Virendra Sachdeva, president of the BJP's Delhi branch, said Friday that Congress had only itself to blame for the freezing of its accounts.

"It is unfortunate that a big party like Congress is not following government rules," he told the Press Trust of India news agency.

"If it is not following the rules, then it has to face the consequences."


Source: TRT