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‘Congress under siege’: Party leaders rush to AICC HQ amid heavy police presence

NEW DELHI: The Enforcement Directorate(ED) on Wednesday temporarily sealed the office of Young Indian (YI) company housed in the premises of Congress-owned newspaper National Herald here as part of an ongoing money laundering investigation, official sources said.

Shortly after the ED action, the road to AICC headquarters was blocked by the Delhi police with the Congress saying policemen were deployed there and also around the residences of party chief Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi nearby as if they were “terrorists”, and claimed the party was “under siege” by the Modi government.

But the police said barricades were erected and its personnel deputed to avoid any untoward situation. The barricades were later removed.

Addressing a hurriedly convened press conference at the party office, Congress leaders Jairam Ramesh, Ajay Maken and Abhishek Singhvi said the Congress party will not be intimidated by this kind of “cheap and petty politics” and will continue to raise people’s issues.

The seal in the office of YI was put in order to “preserve the evidence” which could not be collected as authorised representatives of the company were not present during the raids that were launched on Tuesday, official sources said.

The rest of the National Herald office on the top floor of the four-storey ‘Herald House’ building and other offices are open for use, the sources added.

The passport office is also housed in the ‘Herald House’ located at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg.

A notice affixed under the signature of the ED investigating officer outside the YI office space said it cannot be opened “without prior permission” from the agency.

Officials said the ED team had emailed the summons to the principal officer/in-charge of YI, who happens to be senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, seeking their attendance to open the cabins for it to carry out raids but they have not received any response, so far.

The ED on Tuesday raided a dozen locations, including the National Herald newspaper and web portal office in Herald House as part of its money laundering probe in the National Herald-AJL-Young Indian deal.

The agency sleuths left the premises in the wee hours of Wednesday after they collected some documents, digital data and questioned some staffers.

Kharge, the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, had visited the ‘Herald House’ building on Tuesday evening along with party colleague Pawan Bansal but he left and the search could not be conducted, officials said.

As and when the authorised person (for YI) presents themselves for concluding the search, the seal will be removed, they added.

In his tweet, Ramesh shared a video showing heavy police presence outside the AICC headquarters at Akbar road and the road sealed for traffic, alleging it was “vendetta politics”.

“Delhi Police blocking the road to AICC Headquarters has become a norm rather than an exception! Why have they just done so is mysterious,” Ramesh tweeted.

“The Congress is under siege. Delhi police has surrounded our HQs, and homes of INC President and ex-President. This is the worst form of vendetta politics. We will not submit! We will not be silenced! We will continue to raise our voice against injustices and failures of Modi Sarkar!,” he said in another tweet.

A senior Delhi police officer said it had received inputs from its special branch that some protesters might gather at the AICC Office. “So, as a preventive measure, we have put barricades and deputed our personnel to avoid any untoward situation,” he added.

In a tweet in Hindi, the Congress said, “The voice of truth will not be afraid of police guards. Gandhi’s followers will fight and win from this darkness. Sealing the office of the National Herald, bringing the Congress headquarters under police guards show both the “fear and frustration of the dictator”, the party said, adding questions of inflation and unemployment will still be asked.

Congress leaders alleged the sole objective of this “siege mentality” of the “fearful” Modi regime is humiliation, insult and intimidation at one level and diversion, digression and sensationalism at another level.

“Today you have created a siege mentality, a climate of fear. The entire country watches as investigative agencies are deployed mindlessly against the leadership of India’s oldest political party.

“You are treating this institution, this party, these leaders as terrorists. Is it not the worst form of petty politics and on the contrary you blame us,” Singhvi said, alleging that platoons of cops have been deployed all around the Congress offices and residences of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.

He said what is being witnessed is an “an open ended investigation” on events that took place over 10 years ago.

“What we are seeing today is a siege mentality in the heart of the national capital,” he said, adding the world is watching this unfortunate situation in India, which is a proud democracy of the world.

“The only sole object of this exercise is humiliation, insult and intimidation at one level and diversion, digression and sensationalism at another level. They do not want the issues of price rise, unemployment and GST to be raised in the media,” Singhvi said, adding that fear is not there in the dictionary of the Congress and its leadership.

Congress MPs also walked out from the Rajya Sabha towards the end of the day’s proceedings after the Chair did not permit Kharge to raise the issue of alleged barricading of residences of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi by the police.

While Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Anurag Thakur was replying to a debate on the National Anti-Doping Bill, 2022, Kharge stood up to say that the residences of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have been surrounded by Delhi Police.

However, Deputy Chairman Harivansh did not allow him to raise the issue. To this, Kharge said: “If I do not speak in the House, where else I will speak?”.