Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy and the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi have threatened to sue each other on the National Herald issue. But, quite predictably, neither has taken the bait. A recap of the major charges (and rebuttals) may explain how this state of suspended animation has come to pass.
Swamy alleges that Associated Journals Ltd (AJL), a private company that owned the defunct newspaper National Herald, and Young Indians (YI), the section 25 company that all but acquired AJL, committed “fraud” by violating the Companies Act—and breached a “moral code of conduct that dictates to politicians”. Both the trust and the company are controlled by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as well as top Congress (AICC) office-bearers. Swamy, touring the nation “exposing” the AICC’s role in giving AJL a Rs 90 crore interest-free loan, contends the Gandhis rather than the AICC were the beneficiaries. He says they have a role in 27 “companies and trusts” in all.
The Election Commission has given a clean chit to Rahul Gandhi on one charge (that of perjury, as he did not disclose his ownership of YI shares). The allegations include how it is illegal for a political party to engage in a commercial activity. The Rs 90-crore loan was then written off (minus the Rs 5 lakh returned).
The AICC, however, admits to the loan and justifies it as a “sentimental” step taken towards an ultimately political goal—which happens to be YI’s mandate. (Sentimental, because the National Herald and Qaumi Awaz were launched in 1938 by Jawaharlal Nehru to play a role in nationalist revival.)
Meanwhile, AJL was “acquired” in all but name by YI—whose controlling stake, 76 per cent, rests with Sonia and Rahul Gandhi—for just Rs 50 lakh. AJL is said to be a Rs 2,000-crore company, much bigger than YI, whose starting capital was a few lakh, making this transaction noteworthy. YI, however, does not claim to have acquired AJL.
Not so neat is the logic dictating AJL and YI’s objectives. One is a newspaper, the other an organisation dedicated to the inculcation of secularism and democracy in the youth. Swamy’s attack has forced the Congress to revise its position and claim that the old newspaper will indeed be relaunched.
Swamy’s allegations range from corporate “fraud” to backdoor deals, right down to how Sonia Gandhi’s official residence was misused to call an annual general meeting (AGM). The seven-storey Herald House was illegally let out, he says. But the Congress, not to be put down, has responded to one of these charges—countering that AJL’s earnings went into retiring its former employees. It’s not at present known if the AGM was indeed held at 10 Janpath.
Further, AICC’s loan to AJL, amounting to taking on the debt of a Nehru-era newspaper to start a new one today, or soon, has a political purpose. Given the to-and-fro, perhaps it is in the public interest that the parties go to court.