The latest round of income tax raids has raised a political storm in Karnataka. Simultaneous searches were conducted on Thursday at several locations, covering houses and establishments belonging to relatives and associates of JD(S) leaders. Whatever may be the rationale for the I-T department’s action, its timing has certainly raised some serious questions. The large-scale searches have come at a time when national elections are just weeks away and, in Karnataka, nominations have just closed for one phase and begun for the next phase.
As expected, the Congress and the JD(S), partners in the ruling coalition in the state, are crying foul, pointing fingers at the Centre and accusing it of using the central agency to target political rivals. It’s a charge that has surfaced again and again during the last five years of NDA rule.
The I-T department most likely had its reasons for carrying out such raids at this juncture. But the fact that only people linked to the JD(S) leadership were brought under scrutiny does add strength to the argument that there could be more to the raids than what meets the eye. The ruling coalition in the state, battling rebellions and facing possible electoral reversals, is bound to use the I-T action to target the BJP and drum up support in the run-up to the voting on April 18 and 23. The parties held a joint protest at the I-T regional headquarters in Bengaluru with even Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy joining in. Protest marches were taken out across the state.
It’s too early to say whether the raids have managed to unearth any financial misdeed but they have certainly handed the JD(S)-Congress coalition a potent weapon to use against the BJP in the elections. It’s a fair argument that central agencies like the I-T, CBI and ED should be allowed to their job, irrespective of the season and occasion. But it’s also no secret that successive governments in India have often used these agencies as political tools. That is exactly why the raids in Karnataka will be seen as politically motivated, even if they were carried out for genuine reasons.