Income Tax searches were conducted on Wednesday at the residences of Karnataka Power Minister D.K. Shivakumar and in a private resort outside Bengaluru where 44 Gujarat Congress MLAs have been housed, stoking a major political row that rocked Parliament and triggered cries of foul play by the Congress.
"Our state investigative wing is conducting searches at the residence of a Karnataka Minister (Shivakumar) and the room he is staying at a resort (Eagleton) near Bengaluru where some MLAs from another state (Gujarat) are put up," said Income Tax Joint Commissioner S. Ramesh in a statement here.
The searches were conducted under Section 132 of the Income Tax Act as an evidence gathering exercise in compliance with the statutory requirements, he said.
The searches were believed to have been conducted at Shivakumar's houses in Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. Officials said that Shivakumar's aide and his driver have been detained for questioning.
IT spokesperson Surabhi Ahluwalia said Rs 5 crore in cash was recovered from his residence in Delhi.
The early morning exercise sparked an uproar in both the Houses of Parliament where the Congress claimed that it was an attempt to terrorise the MLAs ahead of the August 8 Rajya Sabha election in which senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel is fighting a close battle to retain his seat. Already six Congress MLAs have resigned from the party.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley rejected charges of political motives behind the searches and said they had nothing to do with the Congress MLAs staying in the resort and developments in Gujarat.
He did acknowledge that the searches related to "an individual", an apparent reference to Shivakumar, and said the tax officials visited the resort because he was staying there. They had to bring him to his house to check up on certain documents seized during the searches.
The Income Tax Joint Commissioner said the search was in continuation of an investigation, which has been in progress for a considerable period of time.
He maintained that the timing of the search was decided well in advance, and that it had nothing to do with Gujarat Congress MLAs being brought to Karnataka.
The Congress had flown its 44 Gujarat lawmakers from Ahmedabad on July 29 and lodged them in the Eagleton resort at Bidadi, 30 km from Bengaluru, to prevent the BJP from poaching them ahead of the Rajya Sabha poll.
The resort is located in the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency, represented by Congress lawmaker D.K. Suresh, younger brother of Shivakumar, a lawmaker from the Kanakapura assembly segment in the district.
The Congress alleged political vendetta by the BJP-led NDA government and forced repeated adjournments of the Rajya Sabha which wound up business much ahead of schedule because of continued slogan shouting by Congress MPs in the House.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said the government agencies were being used to terrorise people just ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections.
"What is happening in this country? This House as well as the Election Commission will have to ensure free and fair elections," Azad said.
Congress leader Anand Sharma raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha as soon as the House met for the day.
"For the past few days we have been raising our grave concerns about the attempt to derail and hijack elections to the council of states by abusing state power. Today (Wednesday) IT raids were conducted against a Congress minister at the resort where our MLAs are staying," Sharma said.
In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the government was using central agencies against opposition leaders.
"In Gujarat, there is election for three Rajya Sabha seats. The Congress had 57 members and support of four others, but they (BJP) broke away five members," Kharge alleged.
"Now they are using the IT department on our MLAs from Gujarat, who are in a resort in Karnataka. The Income Tax department is being used to threaten them as well as a Minister of Karnataka," Kharge said, as members from the treasury benches raised their pitch in protest.
Jaitley denied the allegations. "In that resort where your MLAs are staying, no search has taken place. No MLA has been searched. A particular individual was to be searched. He had parked himself at the resort. The resort is certainly not an immune area," Jaitley said.
Sharma said the timing of the raids was significant. Jaitley quipped that whether it is use or abuse of authorities will depend upon recoveries.
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