Why Rahul Gandhi Is Getting Shriller By The Day: Herald House Ghost Is Haunting Him

by R Jagannathan - Dec 25, 2018 06:17 AM +05:30 IST
Why Rahul Gandhi Is Getting Shriller By The Day: Herald House Ghost Is Haunting HimCongress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi. (Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via GettyImages) 
  • What seems to be making Rahul Gandhi angry is probably the fear that he and his mother may be on a losing wicket on National Herald.

    Hence the need to shout scam and corruption on everything associated with the Modi government, including Rafale.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be a worried national party after its unexpected defeat in all the three Hindi-speaking states that held assembly polls recently, but there is even more desperation in the Congress party of late. This is apparent from the way Rahul Gandhi has been speaking.

The other day he said that he would “not let Narendra Modi sleep” unless he waives all farm loans, when most states have already written off the loans of small and marginal farmers. In any case, he should know that the PM hardly ever sleeps. He should, in fact, allow the PM more sleep, so that he does not plot more damage to the Congress party in the run-up to the 2019 general elections.

In the months before the Supreme Court gave its verdict clearing the Rafale fighter deal of any hanky-panky, and even after that, Rahul Gandhi and his party have been accusing everyone of lying. Of course, it’s no surprise that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was accused of lying when she said the pricing details were covered by secrecy clauses. But the party went on to say that Dassault chief Eric Trappier too was lying about whether the Indian government had anything to do with the induction of Anil Ambani as the defence offset partner. Again, when Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa said Rafale was a good acquisition, party spokie Veerappa Moily accused him too of lying.

It took some effort on the part of Rahul Gandhi from accusing the top court of the same, but he made it clear that his party was no pleased with the verdict. He found fault in one line of the verdict, which seemed to suggest that the Comptroller and Auditor General had already sent its report on Rafale to the Public Accounts Committee, which isn’t the case. But the verdict was not based on this assumption, which may need correction, for which the government has already moved the court. The judgment essentially states that the court is not the right forum to judge technical issues such as these when there was no prima facie evidence about any wrongdoing. The non-receipt of the Comptroller and Auditor General report by the Public Accounts Committee is not the issue at all.

While one can understand the embarrassment suffered by the Congress due to the Supreme Court verdict, the extreme belligerence on every issue – including demanding farm loan waivers from the Centre – suggests that Rahul is a worried man. The Rafale issue can anyway be kept alive politically by demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe, but what explains his excessive aggression in general?

Two recent developments, the extradition of middleman Christian Michel to India in the Agusta Westland chopper scandal that originated in the United Progressive Alliance regime, and a UK court’s order to extradite loan defaulter and absconder Vijay Mallya to India, have punctured two other balloons blown up by the Congress party.

The Modi government’s success in these two difficult extradition cases (the Mallya one still has some appeals left to negotiate in the UK), despite the infighting in the CBI, has probably sent shivers down the Gandhi spines for it means that they could be called to account in the National Herald case two, where they are the prime accused.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court refused to disallow the income-tax department from reopening the tax assessments on Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for 2011-12, the year in which they transferred Associated Journals, owner of the National Herald properties, including Herald House, a pricey building in Delhi’s Bahadurshah Zafar Marg, to a private trust run largely by them.

Last week, the Delhi High Court went further, and ordered the eviction of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL) and National Herald from Herald House as the government cancelled the 56-year-old lease on the ground that the property was not being used for the purpose for which it was given. The government said that no printing press had been in use for at least the last 10 years.

The court observed that “the dominant purpose for which the premises were leased out to the petitioners no longer exists,” adding that the petitioners had not even revealed the circulation of the newspaper and online editions.

The National Herald case looks bleak for the Gandhis any which way you look at it. It began with AJL closing shop in 2008, but stuck with a loan of Rs 90 crore lent by the Congress party. As against this, it had properties worth nearly Rs 2,000 crore. So, it was certainly solvent and had huge assets to its name.

In 2010, a private trust owned 76 per cent by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, with the balance being held by two trusted partymen, Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, got the party to assign the Rs 90 crore loan to it for a payment of Rs 50 lakh. The Congress party then wrote off the loan as non-recoverable. Thus, for a payment of Rs 50 lakh, the Gandhis got control of properties worth a couple of thousand crores. The trust is a non-profit, but essentially the moneys earned on the properties are available to it for use.

What seems to be making Rahul Gandhi angry is probably the fear that he and his mother may be on a losing wicket on National Herald. Hence the need to shout scam and corruption on everything associated with the Modi government, including Rafale. They are up the creek without a paddle, and coming back to power at any cost is vital for the Gandhis.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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