2016-17 and 2023: A story of two raids, two parties in Tamil Nadu
The raids followed just after K Annamalai, the BJP’s young and restless Tamil Nadu president, who has rubbed many in own party and in ally AIADMK the wrong way, alleged that G Square was linked closely to the DMK first family.
Both G Square and the DMK denied the allegations, while anti-BJP parties said this was another attempt by Central agencies under the Modi government to target the Opposition.
In Tamil Nadu political circles, there was also feverish speculation about the “parallels” between the IT raids on G Square and those on a mining baron in Chennai in 2016-17, which had culminated in a change in the political landscape of the state.
The I-T raids on Sekhar Reddy at the time had followed allegations that he had links to the top in the AIADMK, which was in power in the state. The crackdown then had led all the way to the Chief Secretary’s office.
With J Jayalalithaa having passed away in December 2016, the AIADMK was vulnerable, plus riven with factions, and the BJP was looking for an opportunity to make its way in.
Reddy was raided as part of the I-T Department’s tax evasion probe against sand miners. Officials claimed to have seized Rs 154 crore from raids in December 2016 on Reddy’s premises, including Rs 34 crore worth currency in new denomination, and over 167 kg gold. With demonetisation just a month old, and new currency hard to get by, the alleged seizure of Rs 34 crore in cash from one individual had raised eyebrows. Reddy was accused of causing Rs 247.13 crore in loss to the government through illegal conversion of demonetised notes.
However, about four years later, in September 2020, a special court for CBI cases in Chennai closed all the cases against Reddy, citing lack of evidence and inability to trace how he acquired the new currency notes.
Even as the raids against Reddy didn’t amount to much eventually, they changed the fortunes of O Panneerselvam or OPS, who was holding the post of Chief Minister then, a temporary charge first given to him during Jayalalithaa’s ailment.
OPS was alleged to be one of the AIADMK leaders with close links to Reddy. Amid rumours of his impending arrest, OPS – who had proved more than once his devoted loyalty to Jayalalithaa while she was alive – rebelled against the party leadership. After Jayalalithaa’s death, this had passed on to her closest confidante V K Sasikala.
However, OPS turned out to have overplayed his hand, and after a floor test in the Assembly that he failed, Sasikala manoeuvred to have her own aide, E Palaniswami or EPS, appointed the CM in February 2017.
Within months, EPS and OPS got together – helped along by the BJP – to remove Sasikala and her entire family from the AIADMK. But OPS could never again acquire pre-eminence over EPS, with recent court decisions formalising the latter’s complete takeover of the party.
As for the BJP, it hasn’t had much success in converting its influence in the AIADMK to its electoral advantage. The ruling DMK continues to remain a formidable ally, backed by the Congress and Left parties. Led by M K Stalin, it has been winning elections since coming to power. Lately, Stalin has also been trying to leverage his claim to the legacy of Periyar’s social justice politics to catapult himself to a central role in a joint Opposition front.
Against this backdrop come the raids on G Square, which began on April 24, and a week later, have seen no statements by the I-T Department yet.
In its defence, G Square put out a lengthy statement laying out its operations and varied philanthropic activities. It said there was no truth to Annamalai’s claims that the company has links going up to Stalin, his son and Sports Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin, and his son-in-law V Sabareesan – a power centre in the party and government.
G Square also said they had been in business long before the DMK came to power, and mentioned its payment of Rs 300 crore in taxes and Rs 125 crore in stamp paper duty. “Ccontrary to popular belief”, the company said, it focused primarily on “tracing land and building independent houses”, not “constructing flats”. And that the reason for their success perhaps was the post-Covid increase in demand for independent houses, in which they specialise, even as other players in the sector continue to build apartment blocks.
G Square said it had a direct workforce of 1,300 employees, supported an additional 2,000 indirect jobs, and impacted roughly 3,300 families. As an example of its commitment to corporate social responsibility, G Square talked about how it had made provisions for 4,800 beds as Covid relief.
The statement went on to talk about how G Square had “rescued over 1,000 cattle from the meat industry and protected them” besides “protecting over 4,000 rescued stray dogs” at a facility. No details of this facility were given.