NEW DELHI: The Congress sought the Election Commission's (EC) intervention on Thursday on the ED raids on a relative of Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi and alleged that the action was politically motivated to malign and defame the chief minister and the party-led state government.
A delegation of Congress leaders met EC officials virtually and submitted a memorandum to them, alleging that the raids were conducted ahead of the February 20 Punjab Assembly polls to create a perception and influence the voters.
The delegation comprising Randeep Singh Surjewala, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Harish Chaudhary, Devender Yadav, Ganesh Godiyal, Pranav Jha and Aman Panwar also reminded the chief election commissioner (CEC) about the alleged Model Code of Conduct violations by the ruling BJP in poll-bound Uttarakhand by "back-dating and tampering" with government records.
The Congress leaders said the raids against Channi's relative are in violation of the EC's directives to the finance ministry and other probe agencies to ensure a level-playing field in the Punjab polls.
They said the commission, during the 2019 Lok Sabha election, had issued an advisory to the Centre on "illegal, motivated and vendetta-driven enforcement actions".
"It is unfortunate that despite a specific direction issued by this commission, the central government continues to flout it with impunity as if it is baiting this commission to profess that a premeditated central government is neither under the jurisdiction of this commission nor does it need to adhere to any constitutional authority.
"The blatant misuse of central investigative agencies for conducting politically motivated raids with the sole objective to publicly defame and malign the leaders of the Indian National Congress, particularly, the Congress chief minister in the state of Punjab, continues regardless of the Model Code of Conduct and with a view to illegally influence public opinion in the ongoing elections scheduled to be held on February 20," the Congress memorandum said.
The delegation said the timing of the raids is questionable as they have come crucially close to the Punjab polls and asked what the ED was doing for the last four years and why has it "suddenly woken up" now.
"Does this itself not prove malice and mala fide?" the Congress leaders asked.
Surjewala alleged that the Punjab chief minister has been targeted through these raids on his relative in order to create a perception and influence the voters of the state into believing that Channi, through his family members and the Congress, is involved in the allegations of money laundering.
He also alleged that mala fide news items are being planted by the ED against Channi and a fake perception is being created against him.
"ED raids are a revenge against the failure of the prime minister's rally in Ferozepur on January 5.
A sustained attack has been launched by the central government and the BJP against Charanjit Singh Channi, Chief Minister of Punjab, since the day of the prime minister's rally in Ferozepur on January 5, when almost all 70,000 chairs were vacant and no one turned up," the memorandum said.
Seeking the EC's immediate intervention in the matter, the Congress termed it a "brazen misuse of the official machinery and part of a larger pattern of malicious intimidation that is being done to directly influence the outcome in five election-bound states".
"This commission must enforce what it commands.
In light of the above, it is important that this commission intervenes and exercises its power under Article 324 of the Constitution of India and address this issue by taking stern actions against ED officials conducting such illegal and mala fide raids and the consequent game to malign and defame," the Congress memorandum said, hoping that the poll panel would treat it as urgent.
The ED on Wednesday said it had seized cash amounting to over Rs 10 crore, including about Rs 8 crore from a relative of Channi, during raids conducted in connection with its anti-money laundering investigation against illegal sand-mining operations in the state.
Enraged over the raids, Channi had accused the Centre of hatching a conspiracy against him as a revenge for the return of Prime Minister Narendra Modi without attending an event and addressing a rally during his visit to Punjab's Ferozepur earlier this month.
The Congress pointed out that no one from Channi's family was named in a 2018 FIR related to illegal sand mining, which was registered by the Nawanshahr police in Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district.
"The fake case being built up by the central government and the ED is that Kudrat Deep, an accused in the FIR (who was discharged at the stage of framing charges), is an acquaintance of Bhupinder Singh Honey," it said.
Honey (28) is the son of Channi's sister-in-law and has recently returned to India after completing his studies abroad.
The Congress alleged that the case sought to be built up by the investigative agency is "deliberately contrived and self-serving and designed to serve the interest of the BJP and its allies, who are becoming irrelevant in the political landscape of Punjab".
"It is also a blatant and audacious abuse of the state machinery by the Government of India, which categorically falls under the offence of 'undue influence' as provided in the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Indian Penal Code, 1860," it said.
The BJP and the SAD on Thursday targeted Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, saying the recovery of crores of rupees from his nephew's premises by the Enforcement Directorate has busted his common man image.
Both parties asked Channi to explain the seizure of money from his nephew's residence, a day after the Punjab CM alleged that efforts are being made to "trap' him in a false case.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday had said it seized Rs 10 crore in cash, including about Rs 8 crore from the premises of Channi's relative.
The raids were conducted in connection with an anti-money laundering investigation against illegal sand mining operations in the poll-bound state.
In a statement, the ED had said "incriminating documents" related to illegal sand mining and property transactions, mobile phones, gold worth more than Rs 21 lakh and a Rolex watch worth Rs 12 lakh were also seized.
Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma on Thursday said the seizure of cash, gold and a expensive watch has busted the "false image" of a humble common man cultivated by the CM.
He asked the Punjab CM to refrain from making statements that he is being targeted because he belongs to the Scheduled Castes community.
"Corruption has no religion and the BJP will never tolerate it. Our party follows zero tolerance to corruption," said Sharma, adding that law enforcement agencies should reach to the roots of the crime.
Former union minister and Akali leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal alleged that Channi's family members "minted crore of rupees through illegal sand mining during his 111-day stint as the CM".
In Bathinda, Harsimrat Badal alleged, "Now, after the Enforcement Directorate raids on the residence of the chief minister's nephew and recovery of money and goods, it is very much clear and the sand mafia in the state is being run by Mr Channi."
She demanded that the "self-proclaimed poor" chief minister should tell Punjabis how his relative was found to be in possession of the money.
The Bathinda MP said during the last five years, the Congress government had completely "ruined" Punjab.
"All development works started by the erstwhile government led by Parkash Singh Badal were stalled. The government reneged on all promises made to each and every section of society," she said.
"The poor and Scheduled Castes section of society were oppressed with social welfare schemes being severely pruned and even closed altogether," she said in a party statement.