The timing of the Income Tax raids on the premises of select individuals in certain pockets of Karnataka on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections gives rise to suspicion that the department is acting at the behest of the central government to intimidate political opponents by instilling a sense of fear in them. The fact that the department wakes up when elections are round the corner and targets only the political rivals of the BJP leaves no one in doubt about the real motive. This time around, the Janata Dal(S) is in the eye of the storm, with raids being conducted in the party’s strongholds like Mandya, Hassan and Mysuru. Among those raided is a kin of Minor Irrigation Minister C S Puttaraju, who is supervising the maiden election of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy’s son Nikhil, pitted against actor and BJP-supported independent candidate Sumalatha Ambareesh in Mandya. Sometime ago, I-T sleuths had swooped down on the premises of minister D K Shivakumar who, at that point, was safeguarding Gujarat Congress MLAs at a resort near Bengaluru to prevent them from being poached by the BJP. It is the timing, rather than the raids themselves that has raised eyebrows.
While the I-T department cannot be faulted for conducting search operations against bureaucrats and contractors who fund politicians during elections, the question is, why is it being selective in its approach, raiding only opposition politicians and their associates while sparing the BJP? The BJP is surely not a paragon of virtue, with some of its Karnataka leaders, particularly its state unit chief B S Yeddyurappa, being accused of trying to purchase ruling party MLAs by offering huge sums of money. Karnataka Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao’s sustained campaign seeking an Income Tax enquiry into the source of the BJP’s black money has not met with any success. When a diary recently surfaced about the alleged huge pay-offs made by Yeddyurappa to his party bosses, the I-T department itself quickly stepped in to dismiss the document as fictitious, a privilege usually not reserved for other accused. It conveniently washed its hands off, stating that the photocopied documents could not be verified by forensic experts in the absence of the original papers. The correct thing to do was for the I-T department, if it were impartial, to launch an independent investigation to get to the bottom of the issue.
By its overtly partisan behaviour, the department has lent itself to the charge that it is now no more than a handmaiden of the ruling dispensation at the Centre. As an institution, the I-T department should owe allegiance solely to the Constitution and maintain the highest level of integrity.