New Delhi, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday appeared in a trial court here in the National Herald case filed by BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and were granted unconditional bail.
Outside, the party engaged in a political battle, attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “targeting his opponents” and terming Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy his “stooge.”
The top two Congress leaders appeared at 3 p.m. before Metropolitan Magistrate Loveleen in the Patiala House courts in the case filed by Swamy.
The party rallied behind its leaders with former prime minister Manmohan Singh and party’s leaders in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad present in the court. Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was also there.
Congress workers had been thronging the party’s central office on 24, Akbar Road since morning to express solidarity with the leaders. They later expressed their joy at the two top party leaders getting bail.
Shortly after returning from the court, both the Gandhis accused Modi of seeking to bend his opponents and said they were not afraid and will fight back. The BJP hit back, terming the Congress as closely linked with “corruption.”
Kapil Sibal, who appeared on behalf of the Congress leaders, told reporters that the court rejected Swamy’s plea to impose restrictions on the travel abroad of Congress leaders.
“We moved an application on behalf of all the accused for grant of bail. The court was kind enough to grant bail without conditions except for furnishing security in the sum of Rs. 50,000 on behalf of each of the accused which were furnished,” he told reporters after the hearing.
The trial court also granted bail to Congress treasurer Motilal Vora, Gandhis’ family friend Suman Dubey and another party leader Oscar Fernandes who also appeared before it.
Congress leader A.K. Antony gave surety for Sonia Gandhi while Priyanka Gandhi gave surety for her brother Rahul Gandhi.
Another accused Sam Pitroda, a former chairman of the National Innovation Council was granted exemption from personal appearance after he moved a plea for the same.
The court fixed the next date of hearing for February 20 at 2 p.m.
The Delhi High Court this month dismissed the Gandhis’ plea to quash the summons issued to them by the trial court on June 26, on Swamy’s complaint about “cheating” in the acquisition of Associated Journals Ltd., which published the National Herald newspaper, by Young India Ltd., “a firm in which Sonia and Rahul Gandhi each own a 38 percent stake”.
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi disembarked a few metres before the court premises and walked inside amid tight security.
Swamy, the lone petitioner, later described the scene inside. “When the Gandhis entered, they were made to stand in a corner where the accused are supposed to be. They were not allowed to sit except Vora,” he said.
Sonia Gandhi later said she appeared before the court with a clean heart as a law-abiding citizen should do. “The laws of the land apply to everyone without fear or favour. I do not have slightest doubt that the truth will come out,” she said, and also made a reference to her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi who had fought cases against her and returned to power in 1980.
She said the “present central government is deliberately targeting its political opponents and misusing central agencies”.
“No one among us is going to be afraid. Our fight against them will continue. Our struggle to preserve our ideals and for the interest of the poor will continue,” she said.
Rahul Gandhi accused the Modi government of making false accusations against Modi’s opponents to bend them. “He wants a Congress-free India. We won’t let that happen.”
Earlier, Azad accused Modi of backing Swamy in his complaint, while party colleague Randeep Singh Surjewala termed Swamy “a stooge” of Modi.
Swamy rubbished the allegations, while BJP leader Muqtar Abbas Naqvi said his party had nothing to do with the case.
“National Herald is yours. Corruption is yours. BJP has nothing to do with all this,” he told the media.