Six months. Fifteen I-T raids and counting. And, all the targets are opposition leaders and their associates. This reveals too much of a compelling pattern to be dismissed as mere coincidence. The spurt in searches on the eve of general elections has raised questions over the neutrality and impartiality of the operations by central agencies like the Income Tax department and the Enforcement Directorate. While it is nobody’s case that the hoarders of illegal wealth should not be touched during the election season, it is the political affiliation of the chosen targets and the way the raids are executed that give rise to suspicion. The whole operation is exposed to the charge of political vendetta. The data of the last six months shows that the I-T department has conducted at least 15 searches against opposition leaders and their associates — five in Karnataka, three in Tamil Nadu, two in Andhra Pradesh, two in Delhi and one each in Madhya Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh. Understandably, the opposition parties have been crying foul over the raids with some leaders even staging street protests. At least, four non-Congress Chief Ministers — HD Kumaraswamy, N Chandrababu Naidu, Kamal Nath and Arvind Kejriwal — have alleged political motives behind the systematic raids against their associates. While the central agencies maintained that the search operations were being carried out only on the basis of material evidence and were linked to suspected movement of hawala money during the election season and tax evasion, the onus is on the government to come clean on the charge of political vindictiveness.
The Election Commission has also taken note of the pattern of such search operations and advised Revenue Secretary Ajay Bhushan Pandey that any action by enforcement agencies during election time should be neutral and non-discriminatory and officials of the poll panel should be kept in the loop about such actions. It has also summoned officials from the Central Board of Direct Taxes to explain the raids amid the opposition allegations. Those who commit acts of corruption must face full force of the law and playing victimhood in such cases on grounds of political vendetta cannot be justified. The corrupt need to be punished regardless of their political affiliations and the flow of unaccounted money during elections must be curbed ruthlessly. However, the experience shows that the parties in power at the Centre misuse the enforcement agencies to target the political opponents and arm-twist them into submission. While the crackdown is welcome, the cherry-picking of opposition leaders is not. The I-T department’s record at securing convictions is, at best, patchy. As against 2,126 search and seizure operations conducted by it in the last three years, only 89 cases resulted in conviction.