Congress threatens ED over Robert Vadra raids: Beyond naked warnings and poll bluster, lies cold calculation

The Congress is upset. It is upset because a central intelligence agency that probes economic offences and financial misdemeanors dared to conduct raids on farms linked to Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law. In fact, Congress is so furious with the search operations in Delhi and Bengaluru that it released a press statement and held as many as four separate news conferences by senior functionaries on the same issue.

Not just that. It also issued naked threats against Enforcement Directorate (ED) officers who are involved in the probe, reminding them that “time and election results change” and “Modi will not be there to save them”. Let that sink in for a bit.

File image of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Reuters

File image of Congress leaders Rahul and Sonai Gandhi. Reuters

The raids were conducted following the third summons issued by the ED to Robert Vadra directing him to appear for questioning before the investigating officer in the Bikaner land deal money-laundering case, where Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality is alleged to have “fraudulently” acquired land in Bikaner meant for rehabilitation of destitute villagers. Vadra had missed the first two summons and, in a Facebook post, had called the summons “political witch hunt” and an attempt to tarnish his reputation.

On Friday, the ED conducted search operations at the offices of some of Vadra’s close associates at three locations in Delhi and Bengaluru, and the probe agency followed it up on Saturday by raiding the residence of Congress worker Jagdish Sharma — known to be Vadra’s close aide — and took him to the office for questioning. According to media reports, ED claimed to have collected evidence “that the persons being raided had received money in their bank accounts from defence suppliers.”

This apparently set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. “Modi ji is acting like a ‘Don’ lording over a criminal empire to persecute & hound everyone opposed to him. In last 54 months, Modi Govt has let loose a criminal conspiracy to vilify, denigrate & malign Shri Robert Vadra to settle political scores,” thundered a Congress statement. Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also called the raids on Vadra’s offices a “a brazen affront to the rule of law and to Constitution” and linked it to BJP’s “sure shot defeat in 5 states” in a tweet.

Another Congress spokesperson, Pawan Khera, threatened ED officials with consequences for their actions. "The officers be better warned that Modi will not come to their rescue when law will take its course on their illegal actions."

Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a Congress spokesperson and a senior lawyer, also issued a warning to ED officers. In a news conference on Saturday, he said: “Seasons change. Politics is also cyclical. The officers heading these agencies should remember that nothing is permanent. They cannot run behave like slaves. The first change will be for all to see on December 11. The second change in season will be witnessed next year."

Finally, Kapil Sibal, seasoned lawyer and a former Union minister, accused the prime minister of “using these agencies political vendetta” and said: “What kind of government is it? If law enforcement agencies start hooliganism then who will question them? If they are supported by the prime minister, who will question them? Where is the law and order in the country?”

The first interesting thing to note is that Congress leaders have come out in numbers to defend a self-proclaimed “private individual” who has no apparent links with the party. Is Vadra even a member of Congress? He is married to another private individual who happens to be the sister of Congress president but has never formally joined politics. So why are Congress spokespersons officially defending a relative of their leader?

The second and more fascinating aspect is the audacious nature of the threat. Consider Singhvi’s comments “Seasons change. Politics is also cyclical… The first change will be for all to see on December 11” closely. If the Congress feels emboldened enough to threaten law enforcement officers (who are doing their job) based on just exit poll predictions, one may only speculate what may happen if they actually regain power in some states or manage to unseat the NDA in 2019.

It not only points to a sinister design, but also suggests how Congress may have undermined these public institutions and treated these agencies as cat’s paw to target its opponents in the past. The bold warnings “Modi will not come their rescue” are meant to intimidate officers and hamper their investigative work.

It will be misleading to interpret Congress’s bluster as “misplaced confidence” and intimidation tactics, though these are certainly major motivations. The statements are meant to serve a deeper purpose. Pay attention, for instance, to Singhvi’s comments where he is quoted as saying: “the officers heading these agencies should remember that nothing is permanent. They cannot run behave like slaves.”

It is not impossible to interpret these words as a tacit encouragement for insubordination within the agencies’ ranks. If even one officer is inspired to take the “advice”, the crux of Congress’s charge — that Modi is “misusing” these agencies to target their leader — will become easier to prove. Or should at least be good enough to change the political discourse ahead of the big election. Beyond the anger and hyperbole, lies cold calculation. Congress frequently accuses the BJP of “undermining democracy”. BJP may be held guilty as charged, but it is evident who are the past masters of this game.

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2018 13:35:58 IST

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