Congress fumes as taxmen swoop on Karnataka minister ahead of Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls

A photograph of the raids being conducted at premises owned by D K Shivakumar in Delhi’s Safdarjung area. Photograph: ANI

With notable departures and multiple defections to the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress party made the unusual move of harbouring 44 of its legislators from Gujarat at a luxury resort outside Bengaluru. As one Congress spokesperson put it, they were kept there for ‘protection’; this a reaction to allegations that the BJP was bribing Congress officials to defect for the upcoming Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls.

The person in charge of these 44 MLAs was Karnataka energy minister D K Shivakumar. The Economic Times quoted him saying, “I have been asked to help out and I am doing all that is necessary for the sake of the party. We have not made any plans for these MLAs to tour. But we will ensure that they will be safe and our party candidate wins the Rajya Sabha seat.”

The Income Tax department on Wednesday morning conducted raids at multiple properties linked to the minister in connection with a tax evasion case. The raids resulted in the recovery of Rs 10 crore in cash.

IT raids began at 7 AM this morning; Karnataka energy Minister DK Shivakumar was in-charge of hospitality for Gujarat Cong MLAs in Bengaluru

— ANI (@ANI_news) August 2, 2017

Bengaluru: I-T raids underway at Karnataka energy Minister DK Shivakumar’s residence in Kanakapura, Sadashivanagar

— ANI (@ANI_news) August 2, 2017

Rs. 7.5 crore recovered during IT raids at two flats of Karnataka Minister DK Shivakumar in Delhi.

— ANI (@ANI_news) August 2, 2017

In the aftermath of the raids, both parties traded barbs over the operation as well as over its timing. The Congress’ Gujarat Rajya Sabha candidate, Ahmed Patel, strongly criticised the actions calling them ‘witch-hunts’ by the BJP –

BJP is on an unprecedented witch-hunt just to win one Rajya Sabha seat

— Ahmed Patel (@ahmedpatel) August 2, 2017

“Karnataka Congress will not get intimidated by such tactics. We are united. Shah & Modi will not be successful in their plans”: @dineshgrao

— Karnataka Congress (@INCKarnataka) August 2, 2017

Senior BJP leader and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said that the I-T department were just doing its job and alleged that Shivakumar was trying to destroy documents when the officials reached the resort to carry out a search.

“Don’t link the I-T raids to Rajya Sabha polls in Gujarat,” Jaitley said in Parliament, reiterating that the raids have nothing to do with politics.

The person at the centre of the raids; D K Shivakumar is said to be one of the most influential leaders in the Karnataka Congress and also one of the wealthiest ministers in the country. A Times of India report from last year states that he is the second richest minister in the country with assets worth Rs 251 crore.

He is a six time MLA who rose to prominence in the late 90s – early 00s. The reason he was chosen as the point person for shielding the Gujarat legislators is his proximity to the central leadership and ability for grass root political management. He is currently the chairing the party’s campaign committee for the 2018 assembly polls. Allegations of corruption against him haven’t diluted his position within the party.

In a state where the BJP is making inroads, Shivakumar is vital for the Congress in Karnataka. He is often referred to as the dependable troubleshooter for the Congress’ top brass. He has the mix of wealth and influence. Seen as someone who is reliable, he has his fare share of critics, especially with the seniors in the party.

His long time political foe Janata Dal-Secular President and former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda criticised the raids but refused to take a stand or pick a side with any particular party telling the media, “I know everything. They have power and we cannot do anything. Raids happen everywhere.”

There is an interesting but troubling pattern emerging regarding the timings of the Income Tax raids. The first part was in April, before the by-election in the R K Nagar assembly constituency in Chennai, there was an I-T raid conducted on Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabasker. Officials found documents that held details of alleged malpractice in poll campaign at Jayalalithaa’s constituency.

Political analyst Sugata Raju observed that the BJP had the ability to read the psychological assessment of a political situation and act on it stating, “The BJP knows the raids won’t be seen as targeting of an innocent politician. The party in that sense has won the perception battle.”

Secondly, the timing of the raid in relation to the Gujarat elections. With allegations of party legislators being bribed by the BJP doing the rounds, the Congress sees these raids as the Centre using political muscle and bullying tactics.

The raids continued on Thursday at various locations. Certain investments in Singapore and other foreign locations are linked to Shivakumar and have come under the scanner of the I-T Department. Perhaps the biggest worry on the Congress’ plate is that the events of last week prove that the BJP is winning the optics of this political battle.

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