Punjab: What's the politics behind money laundering case against Amarinder?
The allegations of money laundering against Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh and his wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder Singh have been doing the rounds for over two years now. Both the Congress's rivals in Punjab - the BJP-Akali Dal combine and the Aam Aadmi Party - have been accusing the family of parking their ill-gotten wealth in banks and real estate abroad.
It was only on Friday that details emerged about the Income Tax department filing a chargesheet against Amarinder for allegedly holding untaxed foreign assets. This has led to more questions than answers.
The first question, of course, is about the timing of the move given that Punjab is going to polls in about two months. The chargesheet will provide ammunition to AAP and the SAD-BJP combine to corner the Congress over corruption, not least because the Congress's campaign has been built around Amarinder.
The timing is also relevant to the internal strife within the Congress over the selection of candidates. It will surely boost the morale of the anti-Amarinder leaders, who are trying to get the maximum tickets for their family members and their supporters. This lobby is opposed to the party projecting Amarinder as its chief ministerial candidate. They are particularly peeved with him for introducing the "one ticket per family" policy.
Then, there is the fact that Amarinder is seen as getting too difficult for the BJP to handle. Although he has quit his Lok Sabha seat, he continues to take on the BJP leadership on various issues, from the ruling party's attempt to whip up nationalist sentiment in the name of the armed forces to currency replacement. With the Congress having been pushed to the margins in the previous Lok Sabha election, Amarinder has emerged as a strong opposition against the BJP's top guns, including Narendra Modi, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh and Manohar Parrikar.
In fact, it was Amarinder who called the Modi regime's "bluff" on vacating villages along the border in the wake of Uri attack and the "surgical strike". He took on Modi and Parrikar for politicising the "surgical strike", going to the extent of calling Parrikar a "nincompoop". Amarinder also successfully deflated the BJP's balloon on One Rank One Pension in the northern region.
His rivalry with Jaitley has only intensified since they contested the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat in 2014 - Jaitley got a drubbing despite the "Modi wave" - or at least that's how Amarinder reads it.
Indeed, while denying the allegations of money laundering against himself and his family, Amarinder has claimed that it is Jaitley and his "agents" who have been trying to malign him since Modi first leveled these allegations at a BJP rally in Barmer in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.
On Friday night, Amarinder tweeted that the chargesheet was Jaitley's reply to his challenge to contest the Amritsar bypoll, and see for himself what the public sentiment on demonetisation was.
Reacting strongly to the "gold restrictions" imposed by the Modi government on Thursday, Amarinder said these kind of things happened in Nazi Germany. "So is the Modi government trying to replicate the Nazi ideology in India?" he asked.
Pointing to the recent incidents of hacking, he argued that it shows how fragile the cyber network in India is and how unprepared the country is for digitisation at the scale envisaged by Modi.
Amarinder pointed to RBI data - disclosed in response to an RTI plea in May 2015 - to say there had been a 100% increase in bank fraud in the year after Modi took charge. He also cited the recent "mega financial hacking fraud", in which 3.2 million debit cards of major banks were compromised.
Accusing Modi of being blind to the risks involved in online banking, he asked, "Do you have such a myopic vision that you can't see how just one senseless move from you has thrown the entire country into financial anarchy and how unprepared your government is to cope with the ramifications?"
Just a few days ago, Amarinder had taken on Modi over the Nagrota attack, accusing his government of failing to secure the nation's borders "despite its tall claims to the contrary".
Earlier, reacting to the killing of three soldiers on the LoC - the body of one of whom was mutilated - Amarinder warned that the Modi regime could try to whip up war hysteria again by deliberately not doing anything to prevent such incidents so that attention is diverted from the problems being faced by people due to demonetisation.
Demanding Parrikar's immediate sacking, Amarinder said the incident had exposed BJP chief Amit Shah's "lie" that India's borders were safe under the Modi rule.
Opposition hits out
Meanwhile, the Akalis wasted no time in pouncing on the opportunity provided by the filing of the chargesheet. They demanded that the money "deposited in Swiss banks by Amarinder should be returned to the state and its people".
SAD general secretary Daljit Singh Cheema said since Amarinder was "virtually bankrupt before he became chief minister of Punjab in 2002", it was clear that the crores of rupees stashed abroad by him had been looted from Punjab. "It is only natural justice that this money be returned back to the state," he added.
Cheema said the filing of a complaint by the Income Tax department has exposed the hollow complaints of Amarinder that he was being victimised. "Such complaints are filed after exhaustive checks. The authorities have already proceeded against your wife Preneet Kaur and son Raninder. The filing of a complaint against you completes the circle. Now you and your family will be thoroughly exposed and all the ill-gotten wealth you have robbed from Punjabis will be put in public domain," he added.
AAP leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal had recently disclosed the purported Swiss bank account numbers of Amarinder's family and dared him to file a defamation case if the information was wrong.