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Above: LS candidate Nakul Nath with father Kamal Nath, who is contesting an assembly bypoll/Photo: Nakul Kamal Nath/Facebook

The IT department’s controversial crackdown on election eve in Madhya Pradesh is likely to open rounds of criminal cases in the state which otherwise is largely free of revenge politics

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal

A good 11 hours before an official press release mentioned Rs 281 crore as the amount involved in the income tax (IT) raids on Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s two close aides and a nephew, BJP national General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya had already disclosed the figure in his rather colourful tweet.

His tweet at 10.53 am on April 9 read: “Madhya Pradesh mein tabaadla express patri sey utarney key karan durghatnagrasth. Jaan ka koi nuksaan nahi lekin 281 crore key maal key nuksaan ka anumaan (The Transfer Express in Madhya Pradesh has derailed. No loss of life, but loss of 281 crore estimated)”.

The same night, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) issued a statement claiming it had detected “widespread and a well-organised racket of collection of unaccounted cash of about Rs 281 crore”, including transfer of Rs 20 crore to the “headquarters of a major political party in Delhi”.

The BJP leader’s stunning foreknowledge about the IT searches has raised suspicion in the Congress that the operation was orchestrated by the Modi government to defame the chief minister in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. Narender Saluja, media coordinator of the chief minister, said: “How could the BJP leader come to know of the figure in the morning? What kind of collusion is this?” He alleged that the searches were carried out at the instance of the BJP and were “aimed at maligning the image of the Congress during elections”.

Vijayvargiya’s controversial tweet is intriguing in view of the facts that neither the state office of the IT department nor the Madhya Pradesh police had any inkling of the searches that were carried out by 300 IT officials at about 52 locations in four states simultaneously on April 7, in a pre-dawn swoop.

The raiding teams from Delhi arrived in the state, along with around 150 CRPF personnel, on April 5, disguised as tourists. They hired five traveller buses and three SUVs. The local police was not informed before conducting the raids. The ostensible purpose of maintaining secrecy was to avoid a re-run of a West Bengal-like conflict in Madhya Pradesh with the local police.

In February, Kolkata Police and officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had a bitter face-off when the federal agency’s sleuths sought to grill the then police commissioner. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sat on a dharna after a team of CBI officials reached the residence of then Kolkata police commissioner Rajeev Kumar to question him in connection with the Saradha chit fund scam.

Nevertheless, skirmishes, though minor, did take place between the CRPF and MP police. In Bhopal and Indore, the jawans of the two forces came dangerously close to clashing, but timely intervention by the senior officers kept the situation from turning ugly. State Director General of Police (DGP) VK Singh has written a letter to Chief Secretary SR Mohanty, urging him to take up the matter of the CRPF jawans’ “intrusion” in the residential complexes without the state police’s permission. He has described the CRPF attitude as “non-cooperative and suspicious”.

After the dust over the IT raids has settled, questions are being asked as to whether the operation has succeeded in terrorising the chief minister and defaming the Congress? The Congress says the IT raids have only strengthened the party’s resolve to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections with renewed vigour.

Party sources claim the IT sleuths have not seized any money from the residences and offices of people linked to the chief minister—former Officer on Special Duty Praveen Kakkar, former adviser Rajendra Miglani. Raids were also conducted on the premises of executives linked to the CM’s brother-in-law’s firm, Moser Baer, and his nephew, Ratul Puri’s company, Hindustan Power Projects Pvt Ltd.

Two others targeted in the operations were Pratik Joshi and Ashvin Sharma, both confidants of Kakkar.  Rs 14.6 crore in cash was reportedly seized from the residences of Sharma and Joshi. Sharma, a known power broker in Bhopal, was close to the BJP leaders. He had influenced the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government to generously fund his NGO. He was a middleman during the BJP regime and used to flaunt his proximity to several IAS and IPS officers. Son of a doctor, Sharma was a failed businessman till he came into contact with the BJP leaders, and gradually emerged as a top class fixer in the corridors of power. Joshi was his close associate. Their opulence and lavish lifestyle dazzled the IT sleuths when the raids were conducted.

The CBDT press release said the searches yielded unaccounted for cash of Rs 14.6 crore from the houses of Sharma and Joshi, besides 252 bottles of liquor, a few arms and a tiger hide. IT officials said that, apart from cash, some diaries, with names of IAS and IPS officers, had also been seized.

The chief minister claimed that the cash seized in the searches belonged to the BJP men and he had nothing to do with them.

The CM may have nothing to do with Sharma and Joshi, but his former OSD Praveen Kakkar was close to them.

After the Congress came to power four months ago, Sharma and Joshi aligned themselves with Kakkar. Kakkar was appointed OSD in December last year but resigned in March to assist the chief minister in the Lok Sabha elections. The former police officer had resigned in 2004 and joined then Union minister Kantilal Bhuria’s personal staff as OSD.  However, he enjoyed good connections with the BJP leaders too. His businesses, including mining, flourished during the Chouhan regime.

IT officials claimed that the raids followed credible information that money was being transferred through the hawala channel during the ongoing poll season. Searches against Miglani and Kakkar, the chief minister’s aides, were based on information of movement of cash, they claimed.

Miglani was in Chhindwara when his residences in New Delhi were searched. He is the election manager of the chief minister and his son Nakul Nath. While Kamal Nath is contesting the assembly byelection from Chhindwara, Nakul is the Congress candidate for the Lok Sabha seat which his father had represented for nearly 30 years continuously. Miglani is associated with Kamal Nath for as many years and is known as the senior Congress leader’s Man Friday.

The IT sources claimed to have recovered documents about bogus shell companies from Miglani’s residences. It is suspected that Rs 250 crore of black money was laundered through the hawala route.

However, Miglani said he was not aware of the raids. Kamal Nath said: “The BJP sees imminent defeat in the Lok Sabha polls and has resorted to such actions to get advantage in the elections. In the assembly elections held last year too they had adopted similar tactics.”

Madhya Pradesh Congress media in-charge Shobha Oza said: “The raids are an outcome of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s frustration caused by the BJP’s defeat in three states (Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan in 2018).”

The raids were conducted at Kakkar’s Indore bungalow, his office, a marriage venue owned by him and another flat. The raids in Bhopal were conducted at Kakkar’s official residence at Nadir Colony at Shyamala Hills, and at the residence of his associates, Ashvin Sharma at Platinum Plaza and Prateek Joshi at Shyamala Hills.

The chief minister’s nephew, Ratul Puri, was also covered under the search operations. He is under the scanner of the Enforcement Directorate for an alleged money laundering case related to the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam.

In an oblique reference to Puri, the CBDT statement said: “The searches in Delhi in the Group of a close relative of the senior functionary have led to seizure of ‘incriminating evidence’ including cash book recording unaccounted transactions of Rs 230 crore, siphoning off money through bogus billing of over Rs 242 crore and evidence of more than 80 companies in tax havens.” Also, several unaccounted/ benami properties at posh locations in Delhi have been detected, it claimed.

A statement issued by Puri’s company said: “Ratul Puri issues a categorical denial of having any connection or involvement of any kind in defence or the AgustaWestland case. He will be fully cooperating with the ED investigation and will provide any clarification or information as may be required.”

State BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal said: “By standing with Kakkar and Miglani, the Congress has proved that it’s for black money, not for any action against it. Congress’ previous records show it has always been with corruption.”

Officials said that MP’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) has conveyed to the Election Commission about the IT raids at the premises belonging to Miglani and Kakkar by a designated Income Tax Nodal Officer (ITNO).

Stung by the IT raids, the chief minister is said to have asked his close officials to prepare cases against the BJP leaders who are allegedly involved in various scams.

The controversial action in the midst of electioneering is likely to open rounds of criminal cases in Madhya Pradesh which is otherwise, by and large, void of revenge politics.

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