THE CONGRESS’S protests against the questioning of Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the resultant standoff with the police came to a head on Wednesday when police personnel barged into the AICC headquarters for a brief moment.
The Congress accused the police of “forcibly” entering its office and “beating up workers and leaders”. It also alleged that its leaders and workers were being barred from entering the party office. Denying the allegations, the Delhi Police said they were “not using any force”.
With the ED questioning Rahul for the third straight day, in connection with an alleged money laundering case related to the National Herald newspaper, the Congress’s senior leadership continued their protest, prompting the police to detain many of them.
Addressing a press conference at the 24, Akbar Road headquarters of the AICC, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said the Delhi Police had prevented party leaders from entering the office. “On Day 1they are allowed 200 people. Yesterday, they are allowed some leaders. And today, they crossed all limits, even our staff were not allowed to enter. The AICC staff were not allowed to enter. The party’s office-bearers cannot come to office. I was told only the two chief ministers can enter, not the others,” he said. “It has never happened before. It is the first time that leaders and workers of a political party are stopped from entering their own office,” he said.
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Hours later, the Congress released a video clip showing a group of policemen, followed by paramilitary personnel, opening the gate of the AICC headquarters, entering the premises, and forcibly taking away a person, who was later identified as Lok Sabha MP from Bahraich , Kamal Kishor Commando.
Congress leaders said the Delhi Police personnel also tried to forcibly take Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who was at the AICC headquarters, but his security personnel foiled the attempt.
A police officer who was at the spot told reporters that “if someone violates the prohibitory orders and runs into the headquarters then we will enter to nab him.”
The Congress demanded the suspension, disciplinary probe, and an FIR against the police personnel. “In an act of absolute goondaism perpetuated by Delhi Police at the instance of the Modi Government, the Delhi Police today forcibly entered the national headquarters of Indian National Congress, beat up workers and leaders. This is patently criminal trespass. The goondaism of the Modi Government and Delhi Police has reached its zenith,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said.
“This goondaism is unacceptable. It will not be tolerated. It will be accounted for. Let all the police officers, who are acting as puppets of the Modi government in order to please their masters, know that this… will not go unpunished. We will remember, and suitable action, both civil and criminal, will be taken,” he said. The party will lay siege to Raj Bhavans across the country in protest, he said.
“What the police did at the AICC office was an outrageous violation of liberty. The police had no search warrant or arrest warrant, yet they entered the office, pulled out Congress leaders and members, including MPs, and threw them on the road. The roughing up of Mr Adhir Ranjan Chowdhuri and others has been captured on video. Every legal norm and political norm in a democracy was violated,” said party leader and former Home Minister P Chidambaram.
The Congress claimed that its members were roughed up by the police. More than 150 Congress leaders and workers were detained for assembling at the AICC headquarters, violating prohibitory orders as Section 144 CrPC was imposed in the area. Congress leaders said their party workers were lathicharged and assaulted while protesting peacefully at the party office.
Denying the allegations of lathicharge and assault, the Delhi Police said they had detained 150 people who violated the law. Special CP (Law and Order) Sagarpreet Hooda said: “The workers came outside (the AICC HQ) and threw barricades at policemen. So there might have been some tussle. The claims of police forcibly entering the office and lathicharging are absolutely false. Police are not using any force. There would be no issues if the organization comes and talks to us and gives a proper list. If there’s an unorganised gathering, we are taking action and talking to workers. If they don’t listen to us, we have to detain them.”
As it came under increasing criticism from the main Opposition party, the Delhi Police released a statement saying they have “repeatedly” informed Congress members about the order stating that the protest can’t be allowed at Akbar Road.
“Despite the suggestions of Delhi Police to have the protest at Jantar Mantar, the INC leaders have again and again tried to create public disturbances in the area. Today, some workers of INC had tried to take out a process from the party office and were stopped by police personnel present. Some of the miscreants burnt tires and damaged police barricades which led to traffic congestion and inconvenience to the commuters. Police tried to prevent from deteriorating while maintaining the utmost restraint,” it said.
In the last three days, the Delhi Police have detained over 820 Congress leaders and workers.
Meanwhile, several Congress leaders also alleged they were not allowed to reach the office and were detained at different police stations. Among them was senior leader Sachin Pilot.
In a video released by the party, Lok Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu, S Jothi Mani, alleged that the Delhi Police had “brutally assaulted us and tore my clothes like this. They removed my shoes. They carried me like a criminal. They are taking us to an unknown location. We are dying for water. We are repeatedly — there are 7-8 women in this bus — asking for water but they have refused to give us water. We are trying to buy water from outside. The police stopped the people from selling water to us. Is this the way the police will behave? This is what is happening to a woman Member of Parliament.”
Abhishek Dutt, vice-president of the Delhi Congress, said, “I was going to the AICC office for work when policemen pushed us. We were stopped and hacked. They detained us and took us to Defense Colony police station. We are now at Dwarka police station. We can’t even enter our office. Police were looking for us. This is nothing but dictatorship. They are looking for Congressmen and picking them up from the streets.”