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Is ‘Herald’ issue politically motivated?

On June 26, a local court in Delhi had issued summons to the UPA chairperson and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in a criminal complaint lodged by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy for alleged cheating and misappropriation of funds in acquiring ownership of the now-defunct daily National Herald. AICC treasurer Moti Lal Vohra, general secretary Oscar Fernandes, Suman Dubey and Sam Pitroda, the other directors of Young Indian Ltd (YI), a company that was incorporated in 2010 and which took over the “debt” of Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), the publisher of National Herald, were also summoned. Swamy had accused Sonia, Rahul Gandhi and others of conspiring to cheat and misappropriate funds by just paying Rs.50 lakh by which YI obtained the right to recover Rs.90.25 crore which the AJL had owed to the Congress party.

National Herald was a newspaper founded and edited by Jawaharlal Nehru. The National Herald was established in Lucknow on September 9, 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru. The paper carried on its masthead the words ‘Freedom is in Peril, Defend it with All Your Might’ taken from a cartoon by Gabriel from Brentford, Middlesex that Indira Gandhi had forwarded to Nehru. Jawaharlal Nehru was an early editor of the newspaper and until his appointment as Prime Minister was the Chairman of the Herald’s Board of Directors. In 1938, K. Rama Rao was appointed the paper’s first editor. Following the Quit India Resolution of August 1942, the British Raj clamped down on the Indian press and the paper was shut between 1942 and 1945. The Herald reopened in 1945 and from 1946 to 1950, Feroze Gandhi served as the paper’s Managing Director, helping restore its financial health. From 1946 to 1978, Manikonda Chalapathi Rau served as its editor. The paper had editions from Lucknow and New Delhi, the latter begun in 1968. In Delhi, the paper was based out of Herald House on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, known as Delhi’s Fleet Street while in Lucknow, it was based out of the Nehru Bhawan and Nehru Manzil buildings. The National Herald also had Hindi and Urdu editions named Navjeevan and Quami Awaz.

The paper’s fortunes were closely tied with those of the Indian National Congress. Post Independence, it was shut down for two years from 1977 following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the 1977 General Elections that followed the Emergency. By 1986, the paper again faced the prospect of closure but was revived a year later following Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention. The Lucknow operations of the paper were shut down in 1998 and much of its property auctioned off under court orders to settle outstanding debts. In January 2008, discussions about closure began. On 1 April, 2008, the paper’s editorial (of its sole remaining edition, New Delhi) announced that it was temporarily suspending operations. The paper had failed to modernise its print technology and had not computerised at the time of suspending operations and had been making losses for several years owing to lack of advertising revenues and overstaffing. At the time of its closure T V Venkitachalam was its editor-in-chief.

Sonia Gandhi calls income tax notice political ‘witch hunt’. She is trying to escape by labeling it as a “politically motivated” case. Anyway, the mother-son duo have to pay for their sins and ‘illegally’ use of power. The voice of Abhishek Manu Singhvi is empty and meaningless in this matter. Culprits get caught and brought to justice in all democratic countries. India is one of them. Breaking her silence for the first time over the BJP targeting her family for her alleged involvement in the National Herald fraud case, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the new government is being politically vindictive.

Reacting on the Income Tax department’s recent notice to the Congress asking why its tax benefits should not be withdrawn, complainant has established a prima facie case against the accused under section 403 (dishonest misappropriation of property, 406 (criminal breach of trust) and 420 (cheating) read with section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of IPC. The court, in its order, said, “From the complaint and the evidence led so far, it appears that YI was in fact created as a sham or a cloak to convert public money to personal use or as a special purpose vehicle for acquiring control over Rs.2000 crore worth of assets of The Associated Journals Ltd.(AJL). It said the accused Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Moti Lal Vohra, Oscar Fernandes were the office bearers and trustees of the funds of the Congress party and the funds of the party were not the personal property of the accused. The funds entrusted to them by the party were to be utilised to advance the purposes for which the Congress party was formed. These funds could not have been advanced in the form of an interest-free loan to AJL, as no provisions exists in the Representation of the People Acts or the constitution of the party permitting grant of any such loan to a company engaged in commercial activities. The court further said that the accused appeared to have cheated the state exchequer as well by claiming tax exemption by showcasing the objective the donations, etc. were sought by the Congress from the people and diverting those funds to commercial purposes. Swamy, in his complaint, alleged that AJL was formally closed in 2008 as it was under a huge unpaid debt of around Rs.90 crore. He alleged that on November 23, 2010 under the Companies Act Young Indian Pvt Ltd company was incorporated in which Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi owned 38 per cent shares each. In December 2010, Swamy claimed, YI’s board of directors passed a resolution to “own” AJL’s outstanding debt and “admittedly obtained an unsecured zero interest loan from the Congress party” for an equivalent amount to liquidate the debt. The Congress party denies the allegation and says it gave Associated Journals a Rs. 90 crore loan because it was in dire straits.

In the past two years since the Gandhi-family-led private company called Young Indian took over Associated Journals, four floors of the five-storey building have been let out at market rates. The ground floor and the first floor are let out to the Passport Seva Kendra of the Ministry of External Affairs and the second and the third floor to IT major Tata Consultancy Services or TCS. While Passport Seva Kendra pays a market rent of about Rs. 60 lakh per month, TCS pays Rs. 27 lakh, sources said. On the top floor is the office of Young Indian, registered under section 25 of the Companies Act, which lists Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as majority stakeholders with 76 per cent stake in total. The rest is divided between Congress veterans Motilal Vora and Oscar Fernandes. The Congress claims Young Indian is a non-profit company, but questions are being asked about who benefits from Associated Journal’s properties. Like Herald House, Young Indian has also acquired other major properties across the country worth Rs. 5,000 crore, the complaint in court alleges. Swamy contends that political parties, which are exempt from taxes on all sources of income, cannot use that money to give loans for commercial transactions. He has also alleged that the Young Indian, through Associated Journal, draws commercial rent on a property that was acquired at a concessional rate to run a nationalistic newspaper, which he says is against the law.
Let’s see where the witch takes Gandhis in this case.

Dr. Vaidehi Taman
Dr. Vaidehi is an Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and an Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. Since 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond the news (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which she caters for her sister-concern Kaizen-India Infosec Solutions Pvt. Ltd.

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