NEW DELHI: The Congress on Saturday accused the government of lying after the BJP alleged that controversial Islamic scholar Zakir Naik had paid Rs 50 lakh donation to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation.
Cabinet Minister and BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Foundation - which has Congress President Sonia Gandhi as chairperson - had taken the donation from Naik's Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). Prasad called it a "bribe".
When the Congress said the money was later returned, Prasad demanded to know why this wasn't done in 2012 itself when security agencies gave a negative report about Naik's Peace TV.
The Congress said the BJP and the central government were spreading lies with "mischievous and selective news plants".
Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala said the money was not given to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation (RGF) but to the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust (RGCT).
"RGCT received a donation in conformity with law and norms and the same was returned in view of the controversy surrounding the IRF and Naik," he said.
"RGF is a distinct, separate, unallied and independent legal entity from RGCT and has never had any donation/funds from IRF and has no connection whatsoever with IRF," he added.
Surjewala accused the Narendra Modi government of running a "diabolical agenda to slender, malign and defame through 'Goebbelsian lies".
"What is utterly shocking is that a Cabinet Minister, who has sworn by the Constitution, is asking questions about documents and facts which are (with) the government and are being leaked by them mischievously."
He said in 2011 the RGCT received "one single unsolicited stray donation of Rs 50 lakh" from IRF, which was directly deposited in the RGCT account by Naik's IRF by cheque.
"In early July this year, when the IRF/Naik controversy became public, RGCT refunded this money to IRF. RGCT also took a decision that after the refund, RGCT will have no engagement of any type with IRF," he said.
Meanwhile, Naik said the campaign against him was an attack on Indian Muslims and a "murder of democracy".
Amid growing calls that his IRF should be banned, Naik, in a 2,000-word open letter, urged the government to be "fair" in its investigation and be "truthful with facts".
He said he was ready to be punished for any wrongdoing but this should be on the basis of concrete evidence and not hearsay.
He said he had spent 25 years promoting peace and spreading greater awareness of Islam besides talking about similarities between religions, and the last two months had been a rude shock.