Herald House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in New Delhi. Photo: V. Sudershan
“I am giving exemption from personal appearance only for today,” the Metropolitan magistrate Loveleen said on a plea by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and son Rahul in the National Heral case on Tuesday. File photo
With fresh standoff, hopes for passage of GST Bill recede.
The Congress on Tuesday accused the BJP-led NDA government of conducting a “political vendetta” and unfairly targeting its leaders by using “proxy litigation” in the National Herald case to divert people’s attention from “failures” in governance.
Even as senior Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi, who represented the accused, told the Delhi HC that party president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi were “keen to appear” before the judiciary, the Congress disrupted parliamentary proceedings while its youth wing took to the streets to protest against Union Minister V.K. Singh’s remarks comparing Dalits to dogs.
Metropolitan magistrate Loveleen granted an exemption to the Gandhis for a day saying they would have to appear before the court for the next hearing set for 3 p.m. on December 19.
With the fresh standoff between the government and the Congress over the case, hopes receded for the passage of the Goods and Services Tax Bill in Parliament.
According to the complainant, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, the accused including Congress leaders Motilal Vora, Oscar Fernandes, former editor Suman Dubey and tech guru Sam Pitroda — “fraudulently” acquired Associated Journals Ltd. (AJL), publisher of the now-defunct daily, National Herald, and transferred its assets worth crores of rupees to another company, Young Indian.
“Young Indian was in fact created as a special purpose vehicle for acquiring control over Rs. 2,000 crore worth of assets of the AJL and since all the accused have allegedly acted in consortium with each other to achieve the said nefarious purpose/design, there are sufficient grounds for proceeding against all of them,” the lower court had observed while summoning them last year.
The HC on Monday refused to quash the summons.
As both Houses were adjourned till Wednesday, Leader of the Opposition in the RS, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said: “Democracy is in danger.”
BJP persecuting Congress leadership: Sibal
Going on the offensive against the BJP government for alleged political vendetta in the National Herald case, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal said that apart from “persecuting” the party’s leadership, it was covertly “targeting” people because they had challenged its “dictatorial” attitude.
“They are targeting [people] in West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Not only that, they have filed sedition cases against 20,000 people from Gujarat’s Patidar community,” Mr. Sibal told a press conference here on Tuesday.
Explaining the party’s position in the case, Mr. Sibal said National Herald was “owned” by Associated Journals Limited (AJL) and its directors and shareholders have always been senior Congress leaders.
In a petition, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy had accused several Congress leaders of having extracted profits out of the National Herald, a non-profit newspaper, now defunct, which was a Congress mouthpiece since pre-colonial times.
Clearing the air on whether the accused have made or can make profits from the AJL, Mr. Sibal said that after the company’s acquisition by Young Indian Ltd., the office-bearers remained the same. However, they don’t earn profits from any of its assets. Mr. Sibal said that since AJL is recorded as a charity organisation the law does not permit anyone to sell it for capital gains. “The incomes and assets of a charity cannot be transferred to another charity,” he said.
Cutting through the technical jargon, former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said via Twitter that it was impossible to make profits out of AJL, now a subsidiary of Young Indian Ltd. “All assets and all income remain with Associated Journals. So, who has misappropriated what?” said Mr. Chidambaram.
Mr. Sibal also said that since Dr. Swamy had nothing to do with the Congress, he had no right to question “a commercial transaction which is shown in the books of accounts unless there is a political motive behind it…We have questioned that motive even in the Court of Law, we will continue to question him.”
National Herald Case
What - Subramanian Swamy, the then Janata Party president, knocked the court's door raising questions over acquisition of a company that published the now-defunct National Heraldnewspaper to which Congress gave a loan of over Rs 90 crore.
Who - Dr. Swamy alleged that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi had floated a Section 25 company called ‘Young Indian’, which acquired Associated Journals, founded by late Jawaharlal Nehru, that published the National Herald and Quami Awaz.
How - Dr. Swamy claimed it was illegal for Congress, a political party, to give loans for commercial purposes. Young Indian wrote off the loans due to Congress for a mere Rs 50 lakh and by a board resolution, the Associate Journals is sold by transfer of shares to Young Indian, which is not a newspaper or journal producing company.
Why - The deal, Dr. Swamy alleged, was to grab prized property like Herald House in Delhi and other properties of the Associated Journals in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
Then - Rahul Gandhi threatened legal action against Dr. Swamy. Congress challenged Dr. Swamy to prove his allegations in a court of law. As Dr. Following Dr. Swamy's plea, a Delhi court ordered the Gandhis to appear before it on August 7, which was challenged in High Court.
Next Sonia Gandhi, son Rahul Gandhi and others are directed to appear in person on December 19 by a Delhi court on Tuesday.