Congress leader and Independent Rajya Sabha MP Kapil Sibal speak to Manoj CG On the Enforcement Directorate questioning Rahul Gandhi and other Opposition leaders, the need for the Opposition to speak in one voice and the government’s Agnipath scheme. Excerpts:
What do you think about the questioning of Rahul Gandhi and the protests by the Congress over it?
The first question is why and under what law is Rahul Gandhi being questioned. They are using the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). There are certain fundamentals that have to be satisfied before the Enforcement Directorate starts an investigation for the offence of money laundering. The first hurdle to be crossed is identifying the ‘scheduled offence’ under the PMLA pursuant to which the ED assumes jurisdiction. The provisions of the Income Tax Act are not part of any ‘scheduled offence’. There is no FIR yet registered against Rahul Gandhi or against others sought to be questioned. Without that the ED cannot assume jurisdiction. Questioning Rahul Gandhi is itself an illegality. The ED’s acts amount to pure persecution and harassment. This provides the government a way to divert the attention of the people from recent events that have angered countries in the Middle East.
Second, Young Indian is a Section 25 company set up under the Companies Act (1956). A Section 25 company can be set up pursuant to a license given by the central government. That license contains certain terms and conditions as prescribed. The central government is entitled to revoke the said license if the prescribed terms and conditions are violated. In the absence of any cancellation of the license there can be no reason to investigate Young Indian. Cancellation can take place if the company has violated the terms and conditions under which the license was granted. The third because Young Indian is a Section 25, the object of the company can only be a charitable, non-profit purpose. Under the law no dividends can be declared. So the Gandhi family can never be enriched. As shareholders they also do not own the assets of the company even if Young Indian controls Associated Journals Ltd. Besides, if Young Indian’s license is revoked no part of the profits, if any, can benefit the shareholders.
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For all the above reasons ED is carrying out a witch-hunt, nothing short of it.
To the second question on why the Congress party is protesting, I am nobody to comment on the decisions a political party takes…it is their way of trying to demonstrate their opposition to the Gandhis’ persecution and harassment. Some may agree or not agree to this method of protest. That is a matter for the political party to decide.
It is said that under the Representation of People’s Act, a political party cannot give loans. Secondly, the AJL had 1,000-plus shareholders. In Young Indian, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are the major shareholders in their private capacity. So it is said that it has fallen into the hands of a family.
What has fallen into their hands? Nothing has come into the hands of the family.
Gaining control of a company is not an offence. Under what provisions of law is it an offence?
From a larger pool of people it has become a private property now. Isn’t that a moral question?
As you know shareholders do not own the property of the company; part of the first principles of Company Law. How does it become the property of the family? If I am a shareholder in Tata companies, I do not own the assets of those companies.
But they have the majority shares. 76 per cent shareholdings between Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. The rest two were family loyalists
Even Tata sons don’t own Tata companies assets. Shareholders don’t own the assets of the company. It is the company’s assets not the shareholders assets. The ED is acting beyond the law; presumably under the directions of their masters.
Why doesn’t the Congress challenge the questioning in a court of law?
That is for the party to decide. It is not for me to say.
If the Congress reaches out to you, will you assist the party legally?
As and when the Congress does reach out, I will give my response.
It is alleged that the ED is used only against Opposition leaders
If you take the map of India and map areas where the ED is investigating people under the PMLA you will, on the map only find states in which the Opposition is in government, not in states where the BJP or its allies are in government where PMLA is being used for launching investigations. Where the BJP is in government, in those states the opposition leaders may also be targeted. This unique law has limited territorial applicability. Its contours are carved out in sync with the political map of the country. I have never seen a law which is operated in this fashion in the history of India. The assumption has to be that there can be no instance of money laundering or wrong doing under the PMLA in BJP run states; the Act will only be enforced in states where the opposition is in power. Amazing. Tells you a lot about our country and how the laws operate here.
As an independent politician, how do you see the Opposition as a whole responding? For instance, the Congress doesn’t question when Abhishek Banerjee is questioned. The Trinamool is silent on the questioning of Rahul Gandhi.
I am, in fact, saddened by that. The entire Opposition is being targeted entirely for political considerations, either to destabilize governments or to harass and instil fear. Take the case of Nawab Malik in Maharashtra. He is paying for his having attacked the BJP big time. The same is happening with Abhishek Banerjee, Satyendar Jain in Delhi. All Opposition parties who realise, and they should realise, that they will be the targets in the years to come should come together. They must support and protect each other. Otherwise, dissonant voices will come in the way of Opposition unity. This is something that needs to be urgently fixed.
There was no joint statement on the so-called misuse of investigative agencies at the Opposition meeting.
I don’t want to comment on that. The meeting was held for some other purpose. Perhaps they might have thought it was not the appropriate forum to issue a joint statement. The fact remains that the opposition needs to come together, fight together, its voice concerns on all these matters.
What is your view on the Agnipath scheme?
This is very complicated. This is not an easy subject. For the last two years, there had been no recruitment in the defense services at the level sought to be covered by Agnipath. This government has always talked about minimum government, maximum governance. For that to happen the government should create an environment for the private sector to thrive. That this government has failed to do. Secondly, the vacancies that are existing in the defense services, along with fresh recruitment will have no real impact on dealing with the challenges relating to unemployment in our country. The economy should have the momentum to create one million jobs every month to deal with massive unemployment and underemployment in India. What, incidentally has happened to pakodanomics!
Government should, in fact, free up the Indian economy. Government’s economic policies and priorities point in the opposite direction. Creating tariff barriers is not the way to go. It’s only a banana republic that allows for concentration of wealth in the hands of the chosen few. In the absence of a thriving private sector, employment is sought to be created through increased public sector investment. Since the economy is in decline, private investment has dried up. The unemployment rate is going up… it is 7.97 per cent. Imports are getting far more expensive because the rupee has gone down to 78.27 to the dollar. The government does not have enough in its kitty to take care of the public expenditure that is necessary for all the welfare schemes that have been launched.
Coming to specifics, how do you expect a young man to be adequately trained to protect our borders within a short period when 75 per cent of all those recruited for four years will end up unemployed even though the government has held out that they will be offered priority in recruitment to the CAPF. This creates an environment of uncertainty which has led to anger and consequently large scale protests by potential recruits. Those between 17 and 21 feel that their future is being jeopardised. Besides, protecting borders at those high altitudes is not an easy task. It requires years of training both physical and of the mind. The fact is young people of that age need to be sure about the trajectory of their careers. Many of them had prepared for and were looking forward to a career in the services. They are deeply disappointed at this turn of events.
The most difficult issue here is that at the end of the four years, the per cent who will not be absorbed in the services will get no pension, no other benefits…. it is said they will get about Rs 12 lakh tax free during this period. Even the four years of service of the 25 per cent absorbed will not be counted for pensionary benefits.
The process of recruitment in the defense services is extremely selective. If you start recruiting people at that young age without testing both their minds, mindsets and their bodies and if somehow the process of recruitment gets skewed it can disturb the ethos of the Army. To my mind that is the most dangerous.