With elections in Karnataka barely months away, central agencies have stepped up their actions against Congress state unit president, DK Shivakumar. The Vokkaliga strongman is facing the heat from the Income Tax (I-T) Department, Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Shivakumar as well as leaders of the Congress have raised a stink over the timing of action by central agencies.
On Wednesday, 28 September, as he was busy preparing to welcome the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Yatra to Karnataka, CBI officials went about assessing his properties.
Barely 10 days ago, Shivakumar was summoned to New Delhi by the ED for questioning in another case.
Just one day after he was questioned by the ED, Shivakumar was served a notice by the Supreme Court on a I-T department petition challenging a lower court order discharging him in a tax evasion case.
In May this year, ED filed a chargesheet against him in a 2018 money laundering case.
Those in the Congress now suspect that all these cases are timed to disrupt Shivakumar’s poll preparation and campaign for the upcoming Karnataka assembly election.
How Shivakumar’s run-in with central agencies began
All the cases that the central agencies have taken up against Shivakumar are interlinked.
It all started with an I-T raid in August 2017.
The raid came at a time Shivakumar was playing host to 44 Congress MLAs from Gujarat.
This was the first time Shivakumar was directly taking on Union Home Minister Amit Shah who was keen on getting three Rajya Sabha MPs elected from the state when the BJP had enough numbers to elect only two.
Congress had entrusted Shivakumar the task of shielding the MLAs from alleged poaching attempts by the BJP.
The Congress wanted to ensure the late Ahmed Patel’s election to the Upper House and prevent cross-voting. Shivakumar — then the energy minister of Karnataka — had huddled with the MLAs at Eagleton resort.
In the wee hours of 2 August, 2017, I-T officials, along with armed central police forces, entered the resort and conducted raids. I-T searches were carried out at 67 locations connected to Shivakumar, his family and friends across the country. The I-T department said at least ₹9 crore in unaccounted cash was found and properties worth crores were attached for an investigation.
बंदूकधारी होटल के अंदर ऐसे घूम रहे थे जैसे की हमारे विधायक अपराधी हैं, यह राजनीति सबसे खराब है: pic.twitter.com/IifWqfh9RR
— Shaktisinh Gohil MP (@shaktisinhgohil) August 2, 2017
Even as Congress alleged the raids were politically motivated, the I-T department deemed the timing “coincidental”.
How the IT, ED, CBI cases are interlinked
The raids led to I-T department filing three cases against Shivakumar on charges of tax evasion and suppression of income, Benami Properties (Prohibition act), and a criminal case for destruction of evidence. I-T officials claimed that Shivakumar tore up papers containing crucial transaction information during the raids.
Based on the I-T chargesheet, the ED registered a case of money laundering against Shivakumar in 2018.
Incidentally, a special court for elected representatives in February 2019 discharged Shivakumar in all three cases filed by the I-T department on the grounds of “bad law: but it to launch fresh prosecution. In April 2021, the Karnataka High Court upheld the order discharging Shivakumar. The I-T department has now challenged the order in the Supreme Court.
The ED case was based on the I-T department’s charges against Shivakumar and his associates for alleged hawala transactions through offshore and obscure accounts. Shivakumar’s mother and daughter too were questioned in the case.
It was in this case that Shivakumar was arrested and sent to Tihar jail in September 2019. Shivakumar spent 50 days in Tihar jail before securing a bail.
In October 2020, the CBI came knocking at Shivakumar’s door accusing him of acquiring assets disproportionate to his known sources of income.
After raids at 14 locations, CBI booked Shivakumar for disproportionate assets of ₹74.93 crore. This case was based on the input by ED, the CBI said. Interestingly, fresh summons to Shivakumar by ED earlier in September came after ED took cognizance of CBI case against him.
Why DK Shivakumar?
Shivakumar is the money and muscle man of Karnataka Congress. These two components — his biggest strengths — have also turned out to be his bane.
Shivakumar has been referred to as Karnataka Congress’ “crisis manager”. Whether it was to shield Gujarat MLAs from the BJP in 2017 or camping outside a hotel in Mumbai where rebel legislators of the JDS-Congress coalition government had huddled, ready to jump ship to the BJP in 2019.
2017 was not the first time Shivakumar was entrusted with hosting Congress MLAs from another state. In 2002, he was entrusted with logistics and safety of MLAs from Maharashtra to save the Vilasrao Deshmukh government.
Right after the 2018 Karnataka Assembly election threw up a broken mandate, Shivakumar and HD Kumaraswamy kept the JDS-Congress flock together, compelling BJP veteran BS Yediyurappa — who had hurriedly taken oath as chief minister of a minority government — to resign in the legislative Assembly.
Images of Shivakumar walking into the legislature in 2018 holding then Congress MLA Anand Singh by the wrist made it to the headlines the next day. A year down the line, Shivakumar was not as lucky.
It is through his money and muscle power that Shivakumar has been able to emerge as the party’s troubleshooter. His resources allow Shivakumar to streamline his organisational skills and nip squabbles in the bud.
“Shivakumar throws money at problems. Sometimes it works,” a senior member of the Congress’ advisory team told South First.
While some in the Congress aren’t fans of Shivakumar for his show of money and muscle power, others believe it is the only way to take on the Modi-Shah combo, especially in an election year.
“Other than his great organisational and management skills, he is also the president of the Congress, which means any action on him reflects on the party. The timing of the raids, searches against him, as it is with politics often, does matter,” Prof Sandeep Shastri, national coordinator of the Lokniti Network opined.
Other than the fact that Shivakumar faces several serious allegations of amassing wealth illegally, his targeting falls into the same pattern witnessed across the country against Opposition leaders, especially in the run-up to elections.
As elections come closer, the BJP, which is facing severe anti-incumbency in Karnataka, looks to benefit from agencies keeping the Congress president and a chief ministerial candidate aspirant tied up in investigations.