National Herald case: Congress' day of reckoning

The grand old party’s strategy for today’s court appearance of president Sonia Gandhi and VP Rahul

New Delhi: Helped by legal eagles, brand managers, veteran politicians and even soothsayers, the Congress party has geared up for what could be the defining moment of its modern history at a lower court in the Indian Capital today.

The big day: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi. file pic
The big day: Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi. file pic 

The ruling BJP-led NDA, meanwhile, planned a cricket match with journalists – cryptically titled Battling 4 Life – involving the country’s finance minister, Arun Jaitley, in a school as if to prove it wasn’t keeping its eyes peeled for the high-profile showdown.

That the city would be sitting on a powder keg was evident when top officers of the Delhi Police, which reports to the Home Ministry, received orders to maintain strict vigil near the Patiala Courts, where the National Herald case will be heard at 1500 hours (3 pm).

Members of the Congress party, on paper said the party would not resort to any rhetoric and would strictly follow the legal route. But in private, and on the social media – especially through certain Twitter handles and Facebook pages – the Congress encouraged its workers to reach Delhi on Saturday morning. All top leaders were told to converge at the HQ by 1 pm. Some 50-odd people could be handpicked to accompany party president Sonia Gandhi, vice-president Rahul Gandhi and four others to the court for an ordinary appearance with an option of jail, sources said.

There were rumours that Rahul Gandhi would not seek bail and ask the magistrate to send him to jail during the hearing, thereby triggering a nationwide protest, even as Sonia Gandhi, Motilal Vora, Suman Dubey and Oscar Fernandes would opt for bail. But a family member, it is reliably learnt, told Rahul Gandhi that his going to jail may not have the desired effect.

“Even Delhi CM Kejriwal once refused bail and went to jail, hoping a wave of sympathy across Delhi. But nothing happened and he was back after spending a week in Tihar, seeking bail from the magistrate,” said a party source.

The source further said one section of the party felt it would be improper to compare the arrest of Indira Gandhi to that of Sonia Gandhi, her son and others being summoned to court. Indira Gandhi, in 1977, was sent to jail for “breach of privilege and contempt of Parliament” whereas Sonia Gandhi, her son and others were summoned by a trial court on prima facie charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, breach of trust and dishonest misappropriation of property under relevant sections of the law.

Party members KTS Tulsi and Randeep Singh Surjewala spent long hours with some of the top leaders, including those considered among the finest legal brains in the country, to chart out a note for party workers across India.

“India must know the truth about National Herald,” Tulsi told reporters. He further said the party workers were also briefed as to how other newspapers use their properties to garner cash and run their business and how National Herald was not a case in isolation.

In another meeting, Sonia Gandhi’s legal team, led by Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, repeatedly warned other leaders from gathering masses outside the court, which he said could tantamount to contempt of court. “Judges hate crowds,” Singhvi said.

There were some who came to the party headquarters with notes from soothsayers, including reports in one that said top BJP leaders were under Shani’s saade sati influence and that the chances of Congress busting the ruling coalition was high. But they found no takers.

In faraway Kolkata, the last editor of National Herald, Shubhabrata Bhattacharya, finished his prayers at the iconic Dakshineswar Tempe of Kali, goddess of destruction, refusing to be drawn into the current slugfest.

At Parliament, Congress leaders downplayed the National Herald case but the party’s troubles with the Arunachal Pradesh governor and how he was hatching a coup with the BJP to oust the Congress government in the bordering, northeastern state. Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, even avoided talking on the DDCA dustup between the AAP and the BJP.

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