Q: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was interrogated by ED for five days and then party president Sonia Gandhi was quizzed for three days. This was followed by the sealing of the Young Indian office in Herald House at Bahadurshah Zafar Marg in Delhi. Leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge was also summoned and grilled by ED on August 4 for seven hours at a time when the monsoon session of Parliament is in progress. What do you have to say about the whole episode?
ED has become an instrument of Mr Modi’s governance. It is no longer a professional and autonomous institution. It has become an instrument of political vendetta. It is very dangerous for our democracy. The combination of three agencies – ED, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Income Tax (IT) – is being used by Mr Modi to settle political scores with his opponents, to threaten state governments and to intimidate opposition political leaders. Clearly, with a conviction rate of less than 0.5 per cent, ED has emerged as an instrument of Modi’s FDI, where FDI stands for fear, deception and intimidation. This is the real FDI.
This is done to divert the people’s attention from the day-to-day livelihood issues – prices of essential commodities, vegetables, edible oil, wheat, growing unemployment and the senseless imposition of GST on essential food items.
To divert people’s attention, Mr Modi is the master of not only deception but he is also a double WMD – both a weapon of mass deception and weapon of mass distraction.
Q. How is the Congress planning to counter the ED actions against its leaders?
We had a massive nationwide protest on Friday (August 5). We tried to march towards the prime minister’s residence from 24, Akbar Road (Congress headquarters) and we also tried to march to Rashtrapati Bhavan from Parliament but were detained and sent to Kingsway Camp police station. We were released after six hours. We had massive protests in different states as well. These protests were exclusively to highlight prices, unemployment, GST (Goods and Services Tax) and Agnipath (short-term recruitment plan in the armed forces). These are all the real issues.
In order to ensure that public attention is not focussed on these issues, Mr Modi has unleashed ED. He destabilised the Maharashtra government. He is right now engaged in Operation Lotus in Jharkhand. He has tried Operation Lotus in Rajasthan but failed. He says it is Amrit Kaal. But from people’s point of view, it is vinaash kaal.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former president Rahul Gandhi and other party MPs wearing black clothes march from Parliament towards Rashtrapati Bhavan as part of party’s nationwide protest over price rise, unemployment and GST hike on essential items, in New Delhi on August 5. Twitter/ @INCIndia
Q. BJP leaders have said that Congress leaders and workers came on the streets only when the ED summoned Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in the National Herald case. Otherwise, they do not come on the streets to raise people’s issues such as price rise and the like.
We came on the streets in January 2015 first and we forced Mr Modi to roll back amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. That was because of protests by the Congress party in UP, Haryana and in other states. That is one example of the mass protests that we have done. We did protest rallies on price rise on various occasions in different states. This is not the first time that we have held a mass protest. We have done it in the past. We have highlighted issues that we have been unable to do in Parliament. We have done it outside.
Yes, there was a powerful expression of collective solidarity when Rahul Gandhi and Mrs Sonia Gandhi were called for questioning. That is because this was a case of political vendetta. There is neither money nor laundering. Where is the question of money laundering?
The biggest laundering machine today is the BJP. It is a giant laundering machine today – laundromat. Look at all these people who have joined the BJP. When they are outside the BJP, they are corrupt and are threatened. They get into the BJP laundromat and become clean and good administrators. They are rewarded as chief ministers and become ministers in the Union cabinet. This is double standards.
Q: Why is the Congress losing everywhere? For example, it lost the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha elections and a number of assembly elections. The Congress is shrinking and 2024 is not far away.
Was this question asked of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh when it kept losing elections from 1952 onwards? Victory and defeat are part of the political cycle. Yes, we have lost. We have lost nationally and we have lost in certain states. But we also came to power. Our government in Madhya Pradesh was destabilised. The chief destabiliser is now in the Union cabinet. Then we were not allowed to form a government in Manipur, where we were the single largest party. We were the single largest party in Goa but were not allowed to form the government.
We have lost elections. There are organisational infirmities and weaknesses. There is no doubt about it. But in 2004, we had been out of power for eight years and people had written off the Congress. But what happened in 2004? Then again in 2009? Fine, we have not been in power since 2014.
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Jairam Ramesh, Shashi Tharoor, Pramod Tiwari, Digvijaya Singh and others detained in Kingsway Camp police lines during their agitation against price rise, unemployment and GST in Delhi on August 5. Photo: Twitter/ @INCIndia
Q: How hopeful are you of the Congress coming back to power in 2024?
We fight, we contest. There is more to politics than coming to power alone. We are not an NGO. We are not a matth. We are a political party. Political parties exist to contest elections and we contest elections to win. But when we lose, it does not mean the end of the world. This fight that we are in with the BJP is not an electoral fight. It is an ideological fight.
Now particularly I would say our fight against (former PM) Mr (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee was an electoral fight. Because Mr Vajpayee embodied the politics of the Nehruvian era. But since 2014, we have been in an ideological confrontation. All said and done, Mr Vajpayee and Mr (LK) Advani were products of the Nehruvian era. So, they were bound to absorb some of the values and principles of that era. But since 2014, the whole battlelines have shifted.
Q: So, do you think had Mr Vajpayee been in power, the ED thing would not have happened?
I do not believe that Mr Vajpayee practised the politics of vengeance. He got Smt Sonia Gandhi to address the UN (United Nations) General Assembly on June 23, 2001 in a special session on HIV, AIDS. She spoke on behalf of the government of India. Mr Vajpayee was the prime minister. Mr Vajpayee was sent to the UN in 1993. So, that politics is over. It is a different ball game altogether. We are dealing with people with a killer instinct. You know what I mean. I do not have to elaborate.
Q: PM Narendra Modi accuses the Congress of being a parivarwad party. BJP leaders allege that Congress leaders are behaving like slaves of a family. What do you have to say about that?
Talking about ED, intimidation, price rise and unemployment, 16 opposition parties and two independent MPs have signed a joint statement deploring the Supreme Court judgment on the amendments that were brought to the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) between 2014 and 2018.
Incidentally. I was the petitioner who went to the Supreme Court in 2019 asking it that if this was a money bill, the amendments came via the finance act, and that as a member of the Rajya Sabha I was denied an opportunity for having a meaningful debate and discussion on the bill. The Supreme Court has referred that part of the petition to a larger bench. Now tomorrow, if the Supreme Court were to say that this is not a money bill, which it is not, then does it mean that all these amendments will be called back?
I do not want to say anything on why the judgment took the shape that it did. There are many speculations on that. But the fact is 16 opposition parties and two independent Rajya Sabha MPs have deplored its consequences for our democracy and have called for a review of that judgment because it gives unbridled powers to the ED which is dangerous for our democracy. No checks, no balances. That is the crux of the issue.
There is an argument being given that the Congress party and Mr P Chidambaram were responsible for these amendments. No. These amendments have been done which have been upheld by the Supreme Court. PMLA was first passed in 2002 when Mr Yashwant Sinha was the finance minister. It did become an act but we had to fulfil international obligations under the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) which has blacklisted Pakistan.
In order to fulfil our obligations under FATF, this was notified when Mr Chidambaram was the finance minister. So, it is unfair to blame Mr Yashwant Sinha and Mr Chidambaram. The Supreme Court has quoted chapter and verse from them. It is very unfair and selective. The crux of the amendments that give draconian powers to the ED have been done between 2014 and 2018 through the backdoor route of the money bill which I have petitioned the Supreme Court and for which the judgment has referred that issue to a larger bench.
Q: Are you filing a review petition?
The implication of the joint statement of the opposition parties is yes, we will be filing for a review. One of the signatories to the statement is Mr Kapil Sibal. That should tell you something.