India’s Congress accuses Modi of ‘crippling’ it ahead of elections with tax case

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 5:58 AM

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday of crippling it before the upcoming general election by freezing its accounts in an income tax case.

A part of the Congress’ bank accounts was frozen last month pending a tax case that dates back to 2018-19, the party has said previously. Earlier this month, a tax tribunal dismissed its appeal to pause recovery of 1.35 billion rupees ($16.32 million) in income tax from its bank accounts.

On Thursday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said all accounts belonging to the party had been frozen, leaving it with no access to funds for campaigning.

“20 percent of India votes for us and we can’t even pay two rupees for anything. It has been orchestrated to cripple us in the elections,” Gandhi said at a press conference.

General elections are scheduled to be held in seven phases starting next month, with most opinion polls predicting an easy win for Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The Congress, which leads a rag-tag bunch of bickering opposition parties in alliance for the general elections, is seen as Modi’s main challenger.

“We can do no campaign work. Our leaders cannot fly from one part of the country to the other. Forget about flying, they cannot even buy a rail ticket,” Gandhi said about the tax case, which he said had caused all the party’s bank accounts to be frozen.

The BJP was quick to deny Gandhi’s charges, saying the Congress was guilty of tax evasion and had to face action because of that.

A spokesperson for India’s Income Tax department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

The Congress has said that the frozen accounts had funds including those collected by the party through crowd-funding and membership drives.

The party, which has ruled India for 54 of its 76 years since independence from Britain, has sunk to record low numbers in parliament after Modi swept to power in 2014 and is struggling to revive support.

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)