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30 Mar, 2024 07:45

Indian opposition alleges ‘tax terrorism’ ahead of 2024 election

The Congress Party has blamed the ruling BJP of denying it a level playing field after being served a $218mn tax notice
Indian opposition alleges ‘tax terrorism’ ahead of 2024 election

The Indian National Congress, the country’s largest opposition party, has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of squeezing its funds ahead of the general elections starting in April, after it received a tax notice of 18 billion rupees ($218 million) from the authorities on Friday.

Jairam Ramesh, a senior member of the Congress Party and a member of the parliament’s upper house (Rajya Sabha), claimed it is an attempt to cripple the party financially. “This is tax terrorism, and this is being used to attack the Congress,” he said at a press conference in the Indian capital.

De-facto Congress leader Rahul Gandhi admitted that the party’s accounts had been frozen, preventing it from campaigning. He vowed to take action against those who are “destroying democracy” as the Congress plans to fight the tax demand in court. 

The notice was served hours after the Delhi High Court rejected the Congress’ pleas against reassessment proceedings by the tax department. The new notice was served for the 2017-18 and 2020-21, and included a penalty and interest, according to Indian media. 

This comes weeks after the Congress said in a statement that the income tax authorities had imposed a 2.1-billion-rupee ($25 million) notice pertaining to the 2017-18 financial year. Congress Party treasurer Ajay Maken at the time called it “an assault on Indian democracy.” 

In response, BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda claimed the Congress was making the accusations against Indian democracy and institutions because it fears a “historic defeat” in the elections. “They are conveniently blaming their irrelevance on ‘financial troubles’. In reality, their bankruptcy is moral and intellectual, not financial. Instead of correcting their own errors, Congress is blaming authorities for their troubles,” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

The Congress, which leads the opposition bloc National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), has repeatedly accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party of “systematic efforts” to squeeze its funds and deny a level playing field to the opposition in the run-up to the elections. Voting will begin on April 19 and will continue for six weeks, with most polls predicting a victory for the ruling party. Several exit polls in the lead-up to the election have predicted a victory for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition.

Meanwhile, India is under scrutiny from its Western partners, including Washington and Berlin, which have commented on the Congress Party’s allegations, as well as the recent arrest of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who leads the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), on corruption charges.  

The US State Department called for a “fair, transparent and timely” legal process in both cases. Earlier, the German Foreign Ministry said it took note of Kejriwal’s arrest and hopes the standards of “independence of judiciary and basic democratic principles” will be applied in his case. New Delhi, reacting to these statements, which it called “blatant interference” in its internal affairs, summoned the German and US diplomats last week. 

On Friday, the UN said, “we very much hope... that everyone’s rights are protected, including political and civil rights, and everyone is able to vote in an atmosphere that is free and fair,” Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said at a media briefing when asked about “political unrest” in India.

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