A day after Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur apologised in Lok Sabha if he had “hurt sentiments”, the BJP doubled down on its attack on the Gandhi family in the House, alleging that they had used the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) as their “jaagir”(fiefdom).
Amid protests from the Congress leader and deputy leader of House, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Gaurav Gogoi, respectively, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that if the Congress did not give answers, it does not have “right to ask a single question on PM Cares Fund”.
Both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were not in the House; Chowdhury told Speaker Om Birla that Sonia was away for treatment.
During the debate on Taxation and other Laws (Relaxation & Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, the Congress and opposition parties had raised questions on PM Cares Fund, with the Congress repeatedly asking the need to create a new trust, and its alleged lack of transparency. Opposition members had also questioned why there was no CAG audit of the Fund if “there was nothing to hide”.
Thakur, who had similarly attacked the Gandhi family on Friday, today said if the Opposition wants CAG audit, it should be ready for a CAG audit of “family-run trusts.” He alleged that PMNRF gave funds to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, of which Sonia was the chairperson, between “2005 and 2008”. “Ek haath se lete thhe, aur doosre haath se apne parivar ke trust pe dete thhe,” he said.
Thakur alleged that when PMNRF was created in 1948 by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the Congress president was made one of its trustees, and there was no registration.
Later in the day, Sitharaman raised also this, asking the opposition benches why a member of the Jan Sangh such as Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, or a leader like Ram Manohar Lohia, could not also have been made part of PMNRF.
Thakur also alleged that the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust took Rs 50 lakh from Zakir Naik in 2011, and gave money to “Christian missionaries”.
In contrast, Thakur said, PM Cares Fund does not include individuals, but posts of the PM and other Cabinet members, and its audited report is available on its website.
Chowdhury told the Speaker that Parliamentary rules allow for notice if allegations are to be made against a sitting MP, that Sonia was away for treatment, that she had a right to defend herself from these accusations, and threatened to walk out.
Thakur continued and said “family foundations” had taken money from Mehul Choksi and other alleged financial offenders.
In his response, Chowdhury read out Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s eulogy to Nehru’s death, and said that by insulting Nehru, Thakur was also insulting the memory of Vajpayee. He said the BJP has been in power for many years, and if the “family” were criminals “why are they still in Parliament?”
The Congress leader said, “We are asking what is the need for a different PM Cares Fund? You go to some other issue. We are asking while our soldiers are battling in Galwan, whether PM Cares got money from Xiaomi, Huawei, One Plus, Oppo, Tik Tok. That is what raises our doubts.”
Sitharaman said Chowdhury should have answered Thakur’s questions, and added that “transparency, like charity, should begin from home.” She reiterated Thakur’s comments on the PMNRF, and said that under the Opposition “only one dynasty finds a place”.
Comparing PMNRF and PM Cares, she claimed that both were not under RTI, had similar tax exemptions and CSR laws, but PMNRF’s management was geared towards one party. She said, “Till we do not get answers, you do not have the right to ask questions.”
Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi pointed out that in natural disasters from 2015 to 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used PMNRF funds to provide relief, and Vajpayee as PM had also done so. “This you do not remember,” he said, alleging that the years before this had never seen the PMNRF being used politically.
Gogoi also said the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s annual statements were audited and filed, and asked whether foundations such as Vivekananda Foundation and Overseas Friends of BJP were doing the same.
Sitharaman responded by calling these foundations private, and said that no money from the consolidated funds of India went to them. Even as states asked for CSR to be applied to CM Relief Funds as well, she said states were stopped from availing these under UPA-2.
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