At 8 pm on 8 November 2016, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to a live broadcast on Doordarshan to make the historic announcement that the government was demonetising notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000, emphasising his commitment to ridding India of the “evils of corruption” and black money, at least five central agencies or commissions in Delhi were sitting on a tranche of documents that allegedly indicated that Modi had accepted bribes in excess of Rs 55 crore, or eight million dollars. It is unclear from the documents, whether there were 13 separate transactions that involved Modi and came to a total of Rs 55.2 crore or nine transactions totalling Rs 40.1 crore. In the documents, there appears to be a repetition of four specific transactions, which took place between 30 October 2013 and 29 November 2013 and have been accounted for under two separate headings.
The documents, which have been doing the rounds in Delhi for the last few months, suggest that during his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi—along with a number of important politicians—was paid large amounts of cash by individuals associated with Subrata Roy, the founder-chairman of the Sahara India Group. These documents also suggest that the recipients of such favours included, among others: Shivraj Singh Chouhan, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh; Raman Singh, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh; Shaina NC, the treasurer for the Bharatiya Janata party in Maharashtra and; Sheila Dikshit, the former chief minister of Delhi.
On 17 November, The Caravan and The Economic and Political Weekly (EPW) e-mailed and wrote letters to Modi, Chouhan, Singh, Shaina NC and Dikshit, seeking their responses to the information contained in the documents—which the income tax department seized during a raid it conducted on various premises of the Sahara India Group in the national capital region on 22 November 2014. At the time of publication, no responses had been received. These responses will be published as and when they come in.
The documents that were seized during the raids are appear to have been signed by Ankita Pandey, deputy director, Income Tax (Investigation) and counter-signed by other government officials along with a representative from the Sahara India Group. When I spoke to Pandey over the phone on 3 November, she said she was on a long leave. She added that she was not authorised to speak to the media and could, therefore, neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the documents. These documents are currently in the possession of at least a dozen journalists and a similar number of senior government officials, who were sent scanned or photocopied versions of the papers.
The documents form a part of an Interim Application (IA) that has been filed by the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Common Cause, in its pending petition challenging the appointment of Kosaraju Veerayya Chowdary, the chief vigilance commissioner of India since June 2015. The organisation filed this IA on 15 November 2016. It is being represented by the lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who had earlier written letters to nine individuals, attaching copies of some of the documents that had been seized during the raid on the Sahara India Group. Bhushan sent these letters, with detailed annexures, in the course of the last week of October.