The Income Tax (I-T) raids on various premises across three states linked to Congress Rajya Sabha MP Dhiraj Prasad Sahu have so far netted over Rs 350 crore.
The Sahu family has strong and organic ties with the Congress, especially the Gandhi family, going back decades.
Dhiraj Sahu’s father Baldeo Sahu was a Congress leader and close associate of Jawaharlal Nehru. Baldeo Sahu was a prosperous businessman and used to contribute substantially to the coffers of the party.
In 1947, Baldeo Sahu donated Rs 47 lakh (nearly Rs 40 crore today as per RBI’s inflation calculator) and 47 kilos of gold (nearly Rs 30 crore at current price) to the Union government to help newly independent India’s fledgling economy.
Nehru thanked Baldeo Sahu personally for the large donation and made it a point to host Sahu for tea and dinner many times at the Teen Murti House (Nehru’s residence).
Indira Gandhi kept up the association with Baldeo Sahu and his six sons, and encouraged four of them to join the Congress party.
Indira Gandhi used to stay at the family’s house in Lohardaga (Jharkhand) and other properties belonging to them in Bihar (Jharkhand was part of Bihar then) and Odisha during her election campaigns.
After Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and his family (Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Priyanka) continued the close ties with the Sahu family.
Dhiraj Sahu’s brother Shiv Prasad Sahu was close to Sanjay Gandhi. He was known to be Sanjay’s pointsman in Bihar (Jharkhand was part of Bihar till 2000) and was elected to the Lok Sabha on Congress tickets in 1980 and 1984.
Two more brothers of Dhiraj Sahu--Gopal Sahu and Uday Sahu--are Congress leaders in Jharkhand. Gopal Sahu was given the party ticket to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Hazaribagh (Jharkhand), but he lost.
Dhiraj Sahu was the Congress nominee for a by-election to the Rajya Sabha in June 2009. He won and was re-elected to the Upper House in July 2010. He became a Rajya Sabha MP for the third time in May 2018.
Dhiraj Sahu was nominated by the Congress leadership to two important parliamentary committees — the Standing Committee on Coal and Steel and the Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Power & Non-Renewable Energy Sources. The Sahus and their associates have business interests in mining and steel.
The three Sahu brothers — Dhiraj, Gopal and Uday (Shiv Prasad Sahu passed away in 2001) — call the shots in the Congress in Jharkhand.
They have a powerful say in the party’s ticket distribution in all polls (to rural bodies, assembly and Lok Sabha) in not only Jharkhand, but also Odisha where the family has strong business interests.
Congress ticket aspirants flocking to the sprawling bungalow of the Sahu family at Lohardaga to seek an audience with the Sahu brothers and get their ‘blessings’ is a common sight.
“The Sahu brothers, especially Dhiraj Sahu, have a direct line of communication with the Gandhi family and so everyone seeks their endorsement. And it is not only Congress functionaries, but also leaders of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) who request Dhiraj Sahu’s help when they want to reach out to the Congress ‘high command’. Everyone knows that Dhiraj Sahu is the Gandhi family’s pointsman in Jharkhand,” BJP leader Satish Singh told Swarajya.
It is said that after the JMM-led alliance (which includes the Congress) won the 2019 assembly elections in Jharkhand, Dhiraj Sahu played a key role in deciding which Congress MLAs would be made ministers in the state cabinet.
“Dhiraj Sahu outranked our party’s central observers due to his proximity with the Gandhis. We all know that he is close to Rahul Gandhi. He had direct access to Rahul Gandhi and this is something that none other than him in Jharkhand enjoys,” said a Congress legislator who did not want to be named.
The close proximity of the Sahu brothers to the Congress leadership and the key role they play in Jharkhand politics has earned their ancestral home at Lohardaga the moniker of ‘10 Janpath of Jharkhand’. Sonia Gandhi’s residential address in New Delhi is 10, Janpath.
What is often left unsaid is that the Sahu family is a major financier of the Congress. The family patriarch Baldeo Sahu used to contribute very liberally to the party’s coffers.
This ‘tradition’ has been kept up by his sons. It is well-known in Jharkhand’s political circles that Dhiraj Sahu is the foremost banker of the Congress in the state.
And that is what gives him such a lot of clout. Dhiraj is also known to have bankrolled the election expenses of many Congress candidates who have been his nominees.
The Sahu family is said to have benefited hugely from its close association with the top Congress leadership.
The family’s business has grown over the decades and its forays in fresh avenues like real estate have been successful.
The family’s core business of manufacturing liquor and spirits has also prospered. Incidentally, this business with Boudh Distillery Pvt Ltd (BDPL) being the flagship company is headquartered in Odisha.
The BDPL has four companies under it: Boudh Distillery Private Limited (manufacturer of ethanol etc), Baldeo Sahu Infra Private Limited (manufacturer of fly ash bricks), Kwality Bottlers Private Limited (bottling of Indian Made Foreign Liquor or IMFL) and Kishore Prasad Bijay Prasad Beverages Private Limited (Sales & Marketing of IMFL brands).
The Sahu family has been in the liquor business for over 125 years. Founded by Baldeo Sahu, the company started by manufacturing country liquor from mahua flowers in the Chotanagpur region (now Jharkhand).
BDPL now has more than 80 micro distilleries manufacturing country liquor from mahua flowers. It also has bottling plants for IMFL in Jharkhand and Odisha and country liquor units in Bengal as well.
The third generation of the family — Dhiraj Prasad Sahu’s son Harshit, late Shiv Prasad Sahu’s sons Sanjay and Rahul, and their cousins Siddharth, Amit and Ritesh — run the various businesses of the group. These businesses include education, healthcare and real estate.
“The Sahu family’s enterprises have flourished due to their political links and close ties with the Gandhis. They have bankrolled the Congress, and have got a lot more in return. In many ways, the Sahu family has even more clout in Jharkhand than the Sorens (Shubu Soren and his son Hemant, who is now the Jharkhand CM). Unlike the Sorens, they have influence in Odisha and Bengal as well,” All Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU) leader Sushil Marandi told Swarajya. AJSU is a constituent of the NDA.
Futile Attempt By Congress
Given the very close ties between the top leadership of the Congress (including the Gandhis) and the Sahus, and the fact that the Sahus have been major financiers of the party, it is futile for the Congress to try and distance itself from the cash haul from various business and residential addresses of the Sahus.
“A close scrutiny of the BDPL’s books, as well as that of the other businesses owned by the Sahus, will reveal the extent of the tax evasion and also how the Congress benefited from this evasion,” said BJP leader Satish Singh.
The clamour for the arrest of Dhiraj Sahu and his family members — brothers, son and nephews — and their custodial interrogation is also growing.
The Sahus have only been accused of evading taxes, but also of being involved in the hawala trade.
“The cash recovered would not have been just money that was not paid as taxes. Only the family’s involvement in the hawala trade can explain the huge amount of cash that has been found in the properties of the (Sahu) family,” said well-known tax consultant Sushil Gupta.
The alacrity with which the Congress leadership dissociated itself from the cash haul and the Sahu family’s business also raises suspicions.
Last week, Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh (who is well known for his proximity to Rahul Gandhi) posted on X: “The Indian National Congress is in no way connected with the businesses of Dheeraj Sahu, MP. Only he can explain, and should explain, how huge amounts of cash have been reportedly unearthed by the income-tax authorities from his properties”.
“The Congress spokesperson’s lame attempt to shield the party leadership from Sahu’s malfeasance reminds me of the Bhojpuri song rasoi mein kaun tha. Ramesh was quick to say that the Congress is not connected with the cash haul even before any such accusation had been made. That speaks volumes about the Congress being a prime beneficiary of the Sahus’ kala dhanda (illegal businesses),” said a former BJP minister in Raghubar Das cabinet.
BJP Jharkhand state president Babulal Marandi said that not only the Congress, even the JMM has benefitted from the Sahus.
“If the Congress is so keen to prove its innocence, let it expel Dhiraj Sahu and his brothers from membership of the party. I will dare the Congress to do so,” said Marandi.
While investigations will reveal the source of the huge cash haul from the Sahus, it is telling that Dhiraj Sahu or any of his family members are yet to offer any explanation in their defence. And this despite Jairam Ramesh publicly urging Dhiraj Sahu to do so.
“This only goes to show that Jairam Ramesh’s attempt to dissociate the party from the Sahus’ businesses is a mere eyewash meant to hoodwink the public. Behind the curtains and away from public gaze, Dhiraj Sahu remains as close to the Gandhis as ever because he is a major financier of the party,” said Marandi.
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