The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday accused the Congress of having received funds from the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi for the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation and questioned whether it was a “bribe to lobby” for a free trade agreement between India and China. This came amid Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s repeated allegations that the ruling party “surrendered” Indian territory, caving in to Chinese aggression in Ladakh.

The BJP alleged that donations to the RGF were made in 2005-’06, adding that Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was the chairperson then. However, the Congress dismissed the charges and said it was an attempt to divert the attention of the country from matters of national security.

In a tweet, BJP National President JP Nadda further released documents that he claimed revealed how money from the Prime Minister’s relief fund was diverted and donated to the Rajiv Gandhi foundation during Manmohan Singh’s tenure as the prime minister.

“PMNRF [Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund], meant to help people in distress, was donating money to the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in the UPA years,” he said. “Who sat on the PMNRF board? Sonia Gandhi. Who chairs RGF? Sonia Gandhi. Totally reprehensible, disregarding ethics, processes and not bothering about transparency.”

While addressing a virtual rally for party workers in Madhya Pradesh, Nadda asked why the foundation had received money from China. “I saw television and I was shocked and surprised to know that the People’s Republic of China and Chinese Embassy gave $3,000 to Rajiv Gandhi Foundation,” he claimed. “This is the Congress party and China’s secret relationship. After this, Rajiv Gandhi Foundation carried out many studies which advocated free trade.”

However, a BJP statement later quoted Nadda as saying at the rally that the Chinese embassy gave Rs 90 lakh to the foundation.

Nadda said former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram were members of the board when the donation was made. “The country wants to know why the funds were given to the foundation,” Nadda asked. “What studies were carried out for that nation?”

Nadda also accused the Congress of giving significant portions of Indian land to China, adding that the party had no moral right to speak about the country’s national security now. “Due to the mistakes of one family we lost 43,000 square kilometres,” he claimed.

Later at a press briefing, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the foundation was “nothing but an extension of the Congress Party”, adding that the RGF in 2009-’11 report had stated that free trade agreement between India and China would be “feasible, desirable and mutually beneficial”.

“Was this part of the Congress party’s strategy for lobbying for free trade agreement, for which Rajiv Gandhi foundation received a bribe from the Chinese embassy and India’s trade deficit with China jumped 33 times during Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government?” Prasad asked.

The minister claimed there was a Congress “pattern” of not condemning China. “Ten years rule of the Manmohan Singh government is littered with various evidence as to how the Congress party tried to support China,” Shankar said.

Congress calls allegations ‘diversionary tactics’

The Congress responded sharply to the BJP allegations, with party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala saying, “Please stop living in 2005 and start answering questions in 2020.”

Surjewala also accused the Narendra Modi government of using “diversionary tactics” when the country sought answers on matters concerning the borders and Chinese transgression. “This [making allegations] is an act of classical BJP’s desperation, diversion and disinformation and should be rejected with the contempt it deserves,” the Congress leader added.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said his party had led India’s freedom movement and was one of the oldest political parties of the world. “Questioning its patriotism is outrageous,” he said.