Last Thursday, what Income Tax officials have dubbed “Operation clean money” was underway where officials from the Income Tax department conducted raids on more than 180 locations across the state of Tamil Nadu and the country. This included raids at the offices and premises of jailed AIADMK leader V K Sasikala and her family members such as at Sengamala Thayar Educational Trust Women’s College run by Sasikala’s brother V Dhivakaran and at his residence.In Chennai, raids were conducted at the offices of Jaya TV, Midas Golden Distilleries, Jazz Cinemas and the Kodanad Estate in the Nilgiris. Responding to the obvious claim from the Sasikala camp and specifically from TTV Dhinakaran that the raids are politically motivated, senior AIADMK leader and Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar dismissed the notion that there was a connection between the ruling party and the searches being carried out by Income Tax department officials.
The column points to precedents to inconsistency in the approach. Examples cited are the raids on gutka godowns where names of officials and politicians on the payrolls of gutka wholesalers were found. In December of last year, raids were conducted on the then Tamil Nadu chief secretary, although the main target was sand mining baron Sekhar Reddy. “Can I-T searches and allegations of political vendetta be separated at all? No, if the target is a politician from an opposition camp. “Income tax is a central agency reporting to the present government. So, whenever it touches an opposition party member, the bogey of political vendetta is raised,” says Rabu Manohar, central government standing counsel and counsel for GST and customs”. “Referring to allegations of political vendetta behind raids, advocate V Lakshminarayanan says that to eliminate subjectivity, decisions to search premises must be routed through an apolitical body”. Looking at the raids on abroad political spectrum, India Today TV journalist Akshaya Nath, in a column sheds some light on the family who were the target of the Income tax raids last week – “From losing foothold in the party to fighting the two leaves symbol case, and now the recent income tax raids on the properties of Sasikala and her close aides — there have been back-to-back blows for the Mannargudis”. “Sasikala’s family is referred by many as the Mannargudi mafia. During Jayalalithaa’s time, the family used to enjoy the clout. From education, entertainment to liquor, they have their hands full in every trade”. “Sasikala’s elder brother, Dr V Dhivaharan, is known as the boss of the Mannargudi clan and is known to have a lot of influence in Tamil Nadu’s delta regions. His properties have also been raided for the last two days”. Jaya TV reported on the raids by saying that there was an attempt by the Income Tax officials to intimidate the board of directors of the news channel; and this was the work of the BJP government. They reported on how the central government is using its power in an illegal manner in conducting the raids. They also asserted that other media outlets have been falsely reporting that documents were found at the home of Vivek Jayaraman, the CEO of Jaya TV and the Managing Director of Jazz Cinemas, when they insist that no documents were found and criticized the media for not reporting on the news accurately. The Deccan Chronicle editorial stated that the raids were appropriate though conceding that the timing could be question but not the intent – “The raids, reportedly planned over several months to cover a set of people with ties to the old regime, would also have to show proper results with the process and the prosecution to follow standing up to judicial scrutiny”. “The fear is the enterprises the corrupt leaders allowed to be built are worth several thousands of crores now. The timing of the current raids could be subject to interpretation but not their intent and purpose of exposing graft”. “While such scrutiny is invariably dismissed as political vendetta by those just out of power like Sasikala and her clan or Lalu Prasad Yadav and his family amid so many others, it does stand to reason that a public perception of graft permeating the highest rungs of governance is not unfounded”. “The uncertainty in state politics since Jayalalithaa’s demise may lend different interpretations to this sequence of events but the fact remains that Tamil Nadu was one of the worst examples of corruption in the seats of power for several decades now”. The Times of India reported that Sasikala spent much of Friday and Saturday watching the news and seemed disturbed by the raids being conducted on her properties and her kin. Sasikala is currently in the middle of her four year term in a Bengaluru prison after she was convicted in a disproportionate assets case. As for political consequences, Sasikala and her allies could be weakened by the I-T raids and her influence on the AIADMK could be significantly damaged as pointed out by the Hindustan Times editorial - “The ruling AIADMK, since Jayalalithaa’s demise on December 5, has been in turmoil. The OPS-EPS faction opposes the Sasikala-Dinakaran faction. While the former runs the government it is believed that the latter has substantial influence among local leaders and cadre”. “Such raids on establishments and properties owned by Sasikala, who was a close aide of former CM Jayalalithaa, were unheard of in the past. Sasikala’s proximity to power, it would seem now, gave her a sense of invincibility. That shield has gone”.
More columns by Varun Sukumar