Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday led protests against what he described as a politically-motivated corruption probe.
Gandhi was still answering questions from financial-crimes investigators on Wednesday, and the police said about 800 members of his All India Congress Committee (AICC) party had been arrested for demonstration without the appropriate permits.
“We have detained around 800 Congress supporters and leaders since Monday. They did not have permission to protest, and we conveyed it to them. Despite that, they staged protests. We have made adequate security arrangements,” Special Commissioner of Police Sagar Preet Hooda said on Wednesday. Gandhi’s AICC is commonly referred to as the “Indian Congress” party, or simply “Congress.”
Police officials said around 400 officers were assigned to direct traffic around the protests, which have been centered on the Delhi headquarters of the Enforcement Directorate (ED), India’s top financial crimes agency. Gandhi was summoned to the ED building on Monday and has been interviewed by investigators every day since then.
“The traffic is being managed smoothly. The diversions have been made on roads which have been closed,” a senior police official said.
The Times of India (TOI) reported a “huge contingent of police and paramilitary personnel” has been deployed around ED headquarters, where Gandhi spent at least 21 hours answering questions on Monday and Tuesday.
Gandhi and his mother, Sonia, who is currently hospitalized due to a coronavirus infection, have been accused of laundering money from their party and using it to illegally acquire property owned by a venerable Indian publishing company. The complaint against them was initially filed ten years ago by a member of the ruling BJP party.
India’s FirstPost on Wednesday unsympathetically described Gandhi’s grilling at the ED as his “Al Capone moment” – the moment when a relatively minor bit of financial impropriety brings down a corrupt political empire that seemed untouchable:
There are dark whispers of fabulous wealth, billions, accumulated and stashed abroad. More voices from the shadows on kickbacks in defense purchases and every other large contract. Trunks and suitcases of je ne sais quoi brought in from abroad without Customs declaration or scrutiny.
Stacks of land and buildings, flats, apartments, hotels, construction companies. Lavish properties, cropping up both in India and abroad in vast excess of the rules. Indian antiquities and artifacts being exported to relatives in Italy. No frisking and passage through the VIP sections of airports — it has been a charmed life at the top with no government agency ever having the temerity to even question them, let alone start an investigation, or file a case.
Nothing untoward has ever been proved in a court of law. The Gandhis are obviously very well-heeled, but maybe they can conjure up the funds they need from thin air, like magic.
FirstPost argued that contrary to the Gandhis and their AICC colleagues’ portrayal of the current investigation as an absurdly obvious effort by BJP officials to harass them with fabricated charges, there is real evidence of money laundering in the case – which is why AICC is resorting to a “circus” of street theater.
For its part, AICC filed a complaint with ED and the Indian Supreme Court on Wednesday about details of Gandhi’s questioning being leaked to the media. The complaint specifically referenced several news reports that quoted unnamed sources to claim Gandhi was “evasive during the probe” and “appeared tutored by his lawyers.”
“Government should stop the charade and sham investigation and in the meantime cease and desist from leaking false information to media houses selectively. The ED should immediately stop spreading false narratives against Rahul Gandhi for ulterior political motives and as a tool to settle political scores,” AICC’s filing said.
AICC also complained on Wednesday that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was abusing police power to suppress legitimate political activity by cracking down on the protests against Gandhi’s questioning.
“The police even entered the Congress headquarters to detain a worker and a video grab showed a journalist being pulled away by a group of policemen while he was questioning a senior police official. Another video on social media shared by Congress leaders showed a policeman kicking a Congress worker who was being detained,” the Deccan Herald reported.
“The atmosphere in the country is in front of everyone to see. I could not bring my own staff inside the AICC office. No one else is allowed. Political activists cannot enter their party offices. This is happening for the first time in the country,” a senior AICC representative complained.