Rahul and Sonia Gandhi: What is the National Herald case?

Rahul and Sonia Gandhi: What is the National Herald case?- BPN TODAY

On Monday, Rahul Gandhi, leader of India’s Congress party, is due to appear before a government agency in connection with corruption allegations.

Members of his party will be holding a protest outside the office of the Enforcement Directorate which fights financial crime, to coincide with his appearance.

The directorate, commonly known as ED, recently summoned Mr Gandhi and his mother, Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, to come and explain allegations of money laundering in what has come to be known as the National Herald Case.

Ms Gandhi has Covid and has asked for three weeks’ time to appear before the ED.

The case was brought by a politician from India’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who accuses the mother and son of misusing party funds to buy a firm that published the now-defunct National Herald newspaper.

The Gandhis deny any financial impropriety.

So, what is the National Herald?

The National Herald newspaper was started by Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1938.

The newspaper was published by Associated Journals Limited (AJL) which was founded in 1937 with 5,000 other freedom fighters as its shareholders. The company published two other dailies – the Qaumi Awaz in Urdu and Navjeevan in Hindi.

Shaped by some of the most most influential leaders of the time, the National Herald came to be identified with India’s freedom struggle, earning it the reputation for being the great nationalist newspaper of the country.

The newspaper’s fierce and incisive editorial style – Nehru routinely wrote strong-worded columns – were met with the derision of the British government, which banned it in 1942, forcing the daily to shut down temporarily.

The paper reopened three years later.

In 1947, when India gained independence, Nehru resigned as chairman of the board of newspaper after taking over his role as the prime minister of the country.

But the Congress continued to play a huge role in shaping the newspaper’s ideology. In a message to the National Herald on its silver jubilee in 1963, Nehru himself spoke about the paper “generally favouring Congress policy” while maintaining “an independent outlook”.

The National Herald went on to become one of the leading English dailies under the tutelage of some of India’s finest journalists, even as the paper continued to be funded by the Congress party.

But the newspaper again ceased operations in 2008 for financial reasons. In 2016, it was relaunched as a digital publication.

What are the allegations against the Congress?

The case against the Gandhis was brought in a trial court by the BJP’s Subramanian Swamy in 2012.

Mr Swamy has alleged that the Gandhis used Congress party funds and took over AJL to try to acquire more than 20bn rupees in property assets.

At the time of shutting down the National Herald in 2008, AJL owed the Congress an accumulated debt of 900m rupees ($13m; £10m).

In 2010, the Congress assigned this debt to Young Indian Private Limited, a non-profit company that had been created a few months earlier. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are among its board of directors and own 38% shares each.

The remaining 24% is owned by Congress leaders Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes, journalist Suman Dubey and entrepreneur Sam Pitroda, who are also named in the case.

Mr Swamy alleges that the Gandhis used subterfuge to “take over” the assets worth millions in a “malicious” manner.

Young Indian acquired complete control over AJL and its real estate, located in neighbourhoods of Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and other cities, the BJP leader has alleged.

What does the Congress say?

The party has described it as “a strange case of alleged money laundering without any money” and accused the BJP of “political vendetta”.

It says that the Congress – which has ruled India for most of the years since becoming an independent nation – will “not be cowed down” and “fight it out”.

The party says that when AJL, the Herald publisher, ran into financial problems, Congress bailed it out because it believed in its historical legacy.

Over time, the Congress lent about 900m rupees as financial support so AJL became a company with debt.

In 2010, it says, AJL because debt-free after a newly created company – Young India Limited – acquired its shares.

Young Indian, the Congress says, is a “not-for-profit company” and that no dividends have been paid to its shareholders and directors.

The AJL, it insists, “continues to be the owner, printer and publisher of National Herald and that there is no change or transfer of property”.

Party spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said by targeting the National Herald, the BJP was “disrespecting and dishonouring India’s freedom fighters, the stalwarts of the nation and their contributions to the freedom struggle”.

He also accused the government of using ED and other federal law enforcement agencies against its political opponents to harass them.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government has been widely accused of using government agencies to target its critics.

BBC

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