Congress hardens stand on Arun Jaitley, demands SIT probe

Congress hardens stand on Arun Jaitley, demands SIT probe

The Congress on Monday kicked up a ruckus in both Houses of Parliament to press for Arun Jaitley’s resignation and a Supreme Court-monitored probe into alleged corruption in Delhi’s cricket association when the finance minister headed the DDCA.

The party demanded that a CBI special investigation team, supervised by the top court, probe the alleged scam, as it toughened its stand following a strategy meeting Monday morning.

Party chief Sonia Gandhi was present at the meeting that decided to create turmoil in both the Houses. In the evening, the party held a media conference to release documents related to the DDCA case.

“The charges against Jaitley involve gross financial irregularities and violation of rules,” party spokesperson P.L. Punia told the briefing. “A fair probe is not possible if he remains at the helm of a ministry whose departments would investigate (the allegations). Prime Minister Narendra Modi should sack him if he doesn’t resign on his own.”

Defending the tough line, senior Congress leaders recalled how several party ministers – like Natwar Singh, Shashi Tharoor, Pawan Bansal and Ashwani Kumar – were forced to quit amid controversies over alleged corruption when the UPA was in power.

These leaders also cited the Congress’s approach over foreign minister Sushma Swaraj’s alleged role in the Lalit Modi controversy to contest the argument that the tough line was a result of the National Herald case.

Sources said it was also pointed out at strategy meetings how BJP members had relentlessly hounded the then Manmohan Singh government with allegations of scam after scam without any evidence, after some had wondered how far the DDCA case could be stretched if it didn’t involve public money.

Many Congress leaders, however, conceded the party’s belligerence was indeed driven by the animosity generated by the Herald case that had dragged Sonia and Rahul Gandhi to court. “What is the message the government was sending by allotting a bungalow to (complainant) Subramanian Swamy on the eve of the Gandhi family’s court appearance?” a key strategist said.

The strategist added that the finance minister was even now suggesting that BJP member Kirti Azad, who has run a campaign against Jaitley’s tenure at the DDCA between 1999 and 2013, “met Sonia and discussed” the case. “Why is Jaitley upset if we ask for a probe? Is that a crime?”

The Congress forced repeated adjournments in the Rajya Sabha as party MPs rushed to the well shouting slogans. The party raised the issue in the Lok Sabha too before walking out, expressing dissatisfaction at Jaitley’s reply.

Later, spokesperson Punia said: “In the light of the grave and substantive corruption charges against the DDCA during his tenure as its president and prima facie cognisance of the same by agencies ranging from the SFIO (in March 2013), an enquiry committee (of the) GNCTD (Delhi government in November 2015) and the CBI (in October 2015), Jaitley’s continuation is untenable.”

Punia added: “We should not forget that it is not the Congress or anybody else making these allegations but a senior BJP member, Kirti Azad…. Even today, in the Lok Sabha, he said the CBI was looking into the case. The home minister and the parliamentary affairs minister were present and they did not contradict him. How can Jaitley continue as finance minister even for a minute thereafter?”

Punia, who released documents to support his claim, said Jaitley “tried to mislead Parliament today when he said the SFIO (Serious Fraud Investigation Office), had not found him guilty of anything”.

Punia said the observations of the SFIO were detailed in the documents and pointed towards “definite” culpability. “Instead of answering 52 specific questions asked by Azad, he (Jaitley) is indulging in misrepresentation of facts,” the Congress spokesperson said.

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