Accusing the government of misusing power to intimidate its opponents ahead of the crucial Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat, the Congress created a ruckus in Parliament and questioned the timing of the Income Tax raids at the Bengaluru resort where the party's MLAs have been housed.
"Conduct raids on the residences of those people from your party who are offering Rs 15 crore," said Ghulam Nabi Azad, the Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha. After six of its 51 MLAs in Gujarat left the party, the Congress has alleged that money is being used by the BJP to lure its opponents.
The Income Tax raids on Karnataka minister DK Sivakumar this morning found resonance in parliament's upper house, where the opposition Congress attacked the government, accusing it of abusing its powers to win a Rajya Sabha seat in Gujarat.
Mr Sivakumar was picked up by taxmen from a luxury resort in Bengaluru, where the Congress had kept its 42 legislators from Gujarat to prevent what it called "poaching" by the BJP.
Union minister Arun Jaitley said the raids were "on the minister and not the MLAs" and it had nothing to do with the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat.
Union minister Arun Jaitley told Rajya Sabha that no searches were conducted at Bengaluru's Eagleton Golf Resort, where the Gujarat legislators are staying. "A particular individual had lodged himself there. The individual has been taken to his residence and is being interrogated," Mr Jaitley said.
The Congress said the timing of the raid was questionable, especially since it was against a minister who was performing a vital task. "It is this minister and his brother who have been coordinating the safety and stay of Gujarat MLAs," said senior Congress leader Anand Sharma.
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said elections should be "fair and free of fear" be it of Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, or any other election. "Elections cannot happen under threats and blackmails," he said.
The party contended that the government was abusing its powers. "It has become a brazen trend to use state power and agencies, be the Income Tax department or the CBI," Anand Sharma said. "The use or abuse (of power) would depend on the nature of recoveries," Mr Jaitley shot back.
Officials say Rs. 7.5 crore has been recovered from the home of Mr Jayakumar. The Energy Minister of Karnataka is being investigated for tax evasion. After searching in 39 places, a team of Income Tax officials had swooped down on the Eagleton Golf Resort and picked up the minister.
The resort was where 42 Congress legislators from Gujarat were staying. The party had tucked them away in the party-ruled state on Friday after its seniormost leader in Gujarat, Shankersinh Vaghela quit, prising away six other legislators with him. Three of the legislators have joined the BJP.
The defections are crucial in view of the Rajya Sabha elections in the state, in which three seats are up for grabs. The BJP is fielding Amit Shah and Smriti Irani from two. From the third, it plans to field Mr Vaghela's relative Balwantsinh Rajput.
The Congress aims to get Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi's political secretary, elected from the third seat. The defections bring down the effective strength of the House, which lowers the number of votes needed to win and helps the BJP to get its own candidate elected.
"The BJP is on an unprecedented witch-hunt just to win one Rajya Sabha seat," Ahmed Patel tweeted after this morning's raids. "After using the state machinery and every other agency, these I-T raids show their utter desperation and frustration," he tweeted again.
Shankar Singh Vaghela, had been unhappy about the party's refusal to project him as the prospective Chief Minister ahead of the state assembly elections, which will be held later this year.
Further, the I-T department also raided Eagleton resort where 44 Gujarat MLAs are put up.
The raids began at 7 am in the morning and are still continuing at Shivakumar's residence in Bengaluru and Kanakapura. Properties of Shivakumar's relatives, including brother and Bengaluru rural MPD K Suresh, and MLC and cousin S Ravi, were also raided. Ravi was also involved in keeping the Gujarat MLAs in Bengaluru.According to a release issued by the I-T department, the raids on Shivakumar's residence and at Eagleton resort were only related to the energy minister only.
"The search team has no concern with the MLAs and there has been no contact with MLAs and the search team. It is again reiterated that the Income Tax search is only on one Karnataka Minister," reads the release.
The department has said the raids were an "evidence gathering exercise" and is a continuation of an investigation against the minister.