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India’s main opposition party accuses the government of freezing its bank accounts ahead of election

India’s main opposition party accuses the government of freezing its bank accounts ahead of election
NEW DELHI (AP) — The Congress party, India’s main opposition political group, accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government on Thursday of stifling democracy and crippling the party by freezing its bank accounts in a tax dispute ahead of national elections.

India has announced that a 6-week-long general election will start April 19, with most polls predicting a victory for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Rahul Gandhi, a former Congress party chief, said it is unable to campaign properly with its accounts frozen. “We can’t support our workers, and our candidates and leaders can’t travel by air or train” he told reporters.

“This is a criminal action on the Congress party done by the prime minister and the home minister. The idea that India is a democracy is a lie. There is no democracy in India today,” he said.

The BJP rejected the allegations, saying the Congress party’s bank accounts were partially frozen because it had failed to file an income tax return for cash donations it received in 2017-18 and had therefore lost the tax exemption available to political parties.

Congress party treasurer Ajay Maken said in a statement that the party had received 1.9 billion rupees ($24 million) in donations in 2017-18. He said income tax authorities imposed a 2.1 billion rupee ($25 million) lien on Feb. 13, “virtually sealed” its bank accounts, and then confiscated 1.1 billion rupees ($14 million).

BJP President Jagat Prakash Nadda said the Congress party was making the accusations against Indian democracy and institutions because it feared an “historic defeat” in the elections.

India’s Supreme Court is scheduled to take up the Congress party’s complaint early next month after it was rejected by tax appeal authorities, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

Voting in India, the world’s largest democracy, will stretch over seven phases, with different states voting at different times. Results are to be announced on June 4.

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