Taking on Rahul Gandhi for challenging the Income Tax Department’s decision to reopen his 2011-12 tax assessments, Union minister and senior BJP leader Smriti Irani on Tuesday said the Congress president was quick to hug Prime Minister Narendra Modi but would run a mile when it comes to an income tax officer.
The Congress hit back, saying Irani is trying to seek lost political relevance by accusing Rahul. Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala called the allegations “preposterous, foolish and stupid.” Irani’s remarks came a day after the Delhi High Court dismissed pleas filed by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Rahul against the decision to reopen their tax assessments in connection with a case related to the National Herald newspaper.
Addressing the media at the BJP headquarters, the minister said, “I ask every Indian citizen, can any of us defy an income tax notice when asked to come and produce answers? Why is it that Mr Gandhi, who is quick to hug the Prime Minister, would run a mile when it comes to an income tax officer.”
She said, “Mr Gandhi, Mrs Priyanka Vadra and Smt Gandhi own a company, Associated General, that has properties worth thousands of crores in our country…. This property was given to a company set up in the 1930 by Jawaharlal Nehru — only and only for publication of newspapers.”
Irani accused Rahul of setting up a not-for-profit company, which then bought a commercial company, Associated Journals Ltd, and its debts worth Rs 90 crore for Rs 50 lakh. Irani said: “Mr Gandhi set up a company in 2010 which professed that it will not indulge in profit-and-loss businesses. Mr Gandhi went on to take possession of a company called Associated General whose only function was publication of newspapers. At the time of purchase, media reports indicate Associated General was a commercial enterprise. Why would Mr Gandhi, who in his statements had then said we are not interested in profit and loss, buy a commercial company with commercial activities?”
Dismissing Irani’s accusations, Surjewala said, “The allegation is, National Herald and Navjivan…was helped by the Congress party to pay the salary, provident fund, government dues and VRS of its employees. Over a period of 10 years in the 1990s, Congress gave…Rs 90 crore so that National Herald and Navjivan could sustain and pay (staff) salary.”
He said, “We are proud that we gave Rs 90 crore…. The government says that after eight years we are going to reopen income tax returns of 2010, which were duly scrutinised then… This itself proves your mala fide, Mr Prime Minister. They issued a notice which said Rs 90 crore loan the Congress had given…is personal income of the Congress president. Under what law is this preposterous, stupid and foolish argument correct? How can a bad loan become income of a shareholder of a company?
“Second, even if we presume it was income, Income Tax Act says you can be charged a maximum of 30 per cent tax (on that)…. (But) you will be shocked…for Rs 90-crore income, the tax demand is Rs 357 crore. Even if that Rs 90 crore was income, the tax should have been Rs 27 crore,” he said. He said the Congress had moved High Court since it was illegal.