Courtesy : The Times of India (Feb 19, 2011)
NEW DELHI: BJP leader L K Advani has expressed regret to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for alleging she and her family had wealth stashed in foreign accounts, dealing a blow to the party`s campaign against graft and black money.
In a letter to Sonia, Advani said that he “deeply” regretted the distress caused to her by the allegations a BJP task force recently made about the Gandhis hoarding black money in foreign accounts.
The backtracking was forced by a strong protest from the Congress chief and the recognition that Advani had nothing save unsubstantiated reports in little known Russian and Swiss publications to back the serious charge. “I am happy that you have denied the reports relating to you and your family alluded to in the task force`s report on black money,” Advani said in a letter to the Congress chief.
“If these had been denied earlier, the task force would have taken into account your denial. Even so, I deeply regret the distress caused to you,” Advani said.
Sonia had countered the charge in a letter she wrote to the BJP chief on February 15 where she asserted that neither she nor Rajiv Gandhi had any foreign bank accounts.
The retreat marks a setback to BJP`s campaign to pin down Congress leadership under the spate of corruption cases government is grappling with, and can aggravate the debate within BJP on how to carry forward the campaign.
Embarrassed party sources revealed that the task force report was prepared by people close to Advani and in defiance of the strong view of the party chief Nitin Gadkari and others. Gadkari and others, sources said, had cautioned against making “rash” allegations without solid evidence.
The party chief had said that BJP`s campaign had made headway since it was based on irrefutable facts concerning the Commonwealth Games, spectrum and Adarsh Housing scams, and that temptation to take shortcuts carried the risk of loss of momentum.
Sources said that though Gadkari found support from others, it was Advani and his advisors who had their way.
The divergence over strategy is getting accentuated by continuing ambivalence over Advani`s status in the party. Prima facie, the veteran has vacated the stage for Gadkari and the leaders of Opposition in the two Houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley. However, in reality it is his word which prevails on crucial issues and not necessarily, as the fresh fiasco shows, with the best results.
With the task force report backfiring, fissures in the top BJP leadership are likely to widen.
The four-member task force which came up with the charge against Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi consists of S Gurumurthy, former IB director Ajit Doval, Prof R Vaidyanathan and advocate Mahesh Jethmalani. They put the figure of money in safe havens at Rs 25 lakh crore.
Party spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad tried to put up a brave face. He said many magazines and journals published from abroad, including a magazine from Switzerland, had published such allegations from time to time.
“In spite of the serious nature of these allegations, there was no rebuttal or denial. Therefore, in the absence of any firm denial, these allegations carried some validity,” he said. The BJP maintained Advani had in his public utterances reminded the Congress president that if she felt strongly about the allegations, she should issue a firm denial.