DK Sivakumar, P Chidambaram, Robert Vadra, and now,
Rahul and Sonia Gandhi, India’s Enforcement Directorate (ED) has notched up probes
into several leaders of the Congress, India’s principal opposition party. The
premier Indian agency probing financial crime, the Enforcement Directorate has
often been accused of being used as a tool in the hands of the government to curtail
or intimidate the opposition. Over the last five years, however, the anti-graft
body has seen a significant uptick in convictions.

Intimidating the opposition?

On Monday June 13, Rahul Gandhi is responding to the
ED’s summons in New Delhi. He reached the Enforcement Directorate office along
with supporters in what is being described as a show of strength.
Chaos prevailed on the streets as police detained many Congress workers. The
Enforcement Directorate will question Rahul Gandhi on the National Herald case.
Sonia Gandhi has also been summoned in the case, but owing to her testing
positive for COVID, she has been given more time and summoned on June 23.

The Congress sees ED’s actions against the grand-old-party’s
senior leaders as an act of political vendetta to stifle the opposition.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said on Monday morning that the
police barricading the whole of Delhi “proves that the government fears us.”

one can oppress us, neither could the English nor can these new oppressors. We
will march till the ED’s office, we will choose Gandhi’s path, we will fight
for the rights of the poor. The Congress is the voice of the common man for 136
years,” he said.

ED’s goal and role

The Enforcement Directorate was formed in 1957 to
investigate foreign exchange related violations. In 2002, the agency was also
given the task to investigate offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering
Act (PMLA). Working under the aegis of the finance ministry’s department of
revenue, the agency which only worked civil cases till 2002 began investigating
criminal offences.

The last few years have seen the agency get more and
more serious with probing political leaders, often from the opposition. Several
Congress leaders as well has leaders of regional parties not on the best terms
with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have found themselves under ED’s scanner.
Relatives of such opposition leaders have also been targeted. Some examples of
such leaders include former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Motilal Vora, DK
Shivakumar, P Chidambaram and others.

The tallest non-Congress leader to be questioned by ED
is recent years was Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Meanwhile,
former Uttar Pradesh CM Akhilesh Yadav and Jammu and Kashmir leader Farooq
Abdullah have also run into trouble with the ED.

Soft on saffron

While opposition parties accuse ED of targeting them,
the agency also faces accusations of not taking adequate action against leaders
or people associated with the ruling BJP. This, however, is not a new charge.
Every government, including the UPA, has been accused of making the ED go soft
on its leaders and their kin.