The principal opposition party in the country, the Congress, has been hobbled in this election by its inability to access money, claims the party. In all, the 11 bank branches where the Congress has its party accounts, the money cannot be withdrawn. The party claims that it is being hemmed in despite having paid ₹115 crore to the Income Tax Department towards penalty on late returns filing in Assessment Year 2018-19.

Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said, “All our accounts are frozen, we can do no campaign work”.

Elaborating further, Sonia Gandhi has accused the Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “crippling” the Congress.

“A systematic effort is underway by the Prime Minister to cripple the Indian National Congress financially. Funds collected from the public are being frozen, and money from our accounts is being taken away forcibly. However, even under these most challenging circumstances, we are doing our best to maintain the effectiveness of our election campaign,” she said.

The day before, the treasurer of the Congress, Ajay Maken, sat in a corner room in 12-D Feroze Shah Road, and tried to answer questions that the party accountant is facing at the bank. “Listen to this,” he put the phone on the speaker while the harassed accountant is asking how long he would have to keep waiting to withdraw the money. “Keep sitting there,” Maken told him, adding, “we should be able to withdraw today.”

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The Congress has 11 accounts in different branches of Bank of Baroda, Canara Bank, Punjab National Bank and the State Bank of India in Delhi. The party is not in a position to withdraw money from any of the branches while the election campaign is already underway.

“We have paid up. ₹115 crore has been withdrawn from our account. But they are not letting us touch our own money even now,” Maken said.


The story is related to the late filing of the return by the Congress for Assessment Year 2018-19. Based on the assessment, a demand of ₹103 crore was raised. Delays in payment resulted in interest too.

On February 16, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal granted lien or protection of ₹115 crore to the IT Department which had told the tribunal that the attachment of ₹115 crore from various accounts was part of the routine recovery process. The Congress has not been able to win its appeal before a single Bench of the Delhi High Court and has moved before a Division Bench. Meanwhile, it has paid up ₹115 crore.

“We know that eventually we will get relief from the courts. These are just tactics to cripple us during the elections,” Maken told businessline.

While it is still running in circles to tackle this particular case, last week, the Congress received a fresh notice from the IT Department for FY 1993-94 when Sita Ram Kesri was the treasurer.

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“We are being asked to calculate penal charges for FY 1993-94, 31 years after the assessment! What would you call it if not tax terrorism,” asked Maken.

The real problem will start after the filing of the nominations that start next week. Immediately after the nominations are filed, candidates open their new bank accounts where the Congress used to deposit money for election expenses.

“Like families save money for their daughter’s wedding, parties save up for elections. We are being curtailed before the biggest festival of democracy,” said Maken.

Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said on Thursday that election funding and the ruling BJP’s conduct shows that they have disrupted the level-playing field.

“It is a dangerous game. At one level, they have got over 56 per cent of the electoral bond money while the Congress has got only 11 per cent. Besides that, there is no account of the cash they are obviously getting because the mega publicity campaign that they have launched on TV, radio, hoardings, Internet and massive public rallies all cost big money. Where is this money coming from? And they have simultaneously frozen the bank accounts of the largest opposition party. This is a conspiracy that destabilises democracy,” said Kharge.

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The Congress has no money to spend on the three major expenses during elections—publicity and advertising, transportation and public meetings— besides the direct transfers to candidates for their expenses. “It’s like playing a fixed match. There is no level-playing field here,” said Maken.