The Congress on Wednesday hit back at the BJP for levelling graft allegations against Rahul Gandhi, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister Smriti Irani were making "completely baseless" charges to divert attention from real issues such as "rampant joblessness" and "agrarian crisis". The BJP dragged Congress president Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra into alleged corruption involving land deals, claiming the opposition party known for "institutionalising" graft has now come to define "family corruption".
Responding to the allegation, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala asked if there was wrongdoing in the deals then why had the BJP not probed them in the last five years. He claimed that facing "imminent defeat in the 2019 general elections, and finding no answer to the rampant joblessness, agrarian crisis, economic slowdown, all-pervading corruption and social unrest, a frustrated Modi government and its perpetually peeved Union ministers like Smriti Irani, have lost their balance and equilibrium".
"The prime minister and his favourite minister Smriti Irani are resorting to levelling completely baseless and false allegations," the Congress leader said. Surjewala alleged that the BJP wants to divert people's attention from real issues.
"Smriti ji has got so blinded by her desire for revenge against Rahul Gandhi along with her mentor Narendra Modi that she is resorting to fake and false allegations as a diversionary tactic to give cover fire to the prime minister. But they are never going to succeed," he said. Referring to a media report, Irani claimed that Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra purchased land in a deal involving H L Pahwa, who was raided by the Enforcement Directorate, and Mahesh Kumar Nagar, who also had a role in a land transaction involving Robert Vadra.
Irani told reporters that Robert Vadra is "merely a mask" in the controversial land deals and his brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi is the "real face". Rejecting the charge, Surjewala said on March 3, 2008, Rahul Gandhi purchased 6.456 acres of land in Hassanpur Village, Palwal district, Haryana.
The land was bought for a total price of Rs 26,47,000, that was paid for by cheque, which is the equivalent of Rs 4,10,006 per acre, he said. On July 26, 2012, Rahul Gandhi gifted the 6.4 acres of land to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra through a gift deed, registered in the office of sub-registrar. They also paid stamp duty of Rs 1,93,700 on the registered gift deed, Surjewala said.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on August 12, 2014, gifted the land to Vipassana Sadhna Sansthan, a not-for-profit spiritual organisation. Purchase of land was done by Rahul Gandhi out of his own funds paid from his bank account. At no point in time, this purchase of a small piece of land and consequent gift to a spiritual organisation has any connection with any individual, Surjewala clarified.
About Irani's claim that Rahul Gandhi's opposition to a defence deal, an apparent reference to the Rafale transaction, was due to his "financial and family" interests as he wanted a rival company to bag the contract, Surjewala said it was the UPA that had shortlisted only one company -- Dassault Aviation -- for awarding the 126 fighter jet contract. So there was no question of any other firm coming into the picture, the Congress leader said.
(With inputs from agencies.)