Allegations that “fraudulent and fabricated documents” were used to illegally obtain a liquor licence the for North Goa’s upmarket Silly Souls Cafe and Bar, run by Smriti Irani’s 18-year-old daughter Zoish Irani, has given the Congress party fresh ammo to target the Union minister.
Few members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet evoke such strident criticism from the Congress party as Irani, the bitter Nehru-Gandhi family critic who defeated Rahul Gandhi in Amethi in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, does.
Until now, the Congress criticism of the Union minister for women and child development had largely been limited to petulant Twitter spats triggered by her often overzealous broadsides at Rahul or her stoic silence on issues such as inflation and the steeply rising price of LPG cylinders, over which she often sat in protest during the UPA-era when the BJP was in the Opposition.
However, allegations that fraudulent and corrupt means were employed to get a liquor licence for her daughter’s venture in Goa have weaponised the Congress party’s jibes at Irani.
Given that these allegations have surfaced at a time when Parliament is in session, the opprobrium directed at the Union minister, whose sacking from the Union cabinet the Congress has already demanded, is expected to emerge as another flashpoint between the Opposition and the government.
That the Congress will come at Irani with an acerbic sting could be gauged from the fact that the party’s attack against the Amethi MP was jointly led by its recently restructured communications department chief Jairam Ramesh and media wing head Pawan Khera.
“Ordinarily, it is not in the Congress’s political culture to comment on business of personal matters of family members (of political rivals) but this isn’t an issue that is limited to someone’s family or children but one that raises questions on the political conduct and impropriety of a Union minister,” Khera told reporters, on Saturday (July 23).
Khera said the allegations of corruption in procuring a fraud liquor licence for the restaurant and bar run by Irani’s daughter “have not been made my unnamed sources nor arise out of use of central agencies for political vendetta against rivals of the government… they have surfaced in response to a RTI query”.
“The licence is in the name of a person who died in May 2021 and was granted the licence in June 2022, over one year and a month after his demise. The licence was taken by Smriti Irani’s daughter, who I do not wish to name as she isn’t a political person. But the illegality only started from here… as per the prevalent rules and laws in Goa, only one licence can be granted to one restaurant and the place must be registered as restaurant… this restaurant and bar was given two licences when it was not even registered as a restaurant,” Khera claimed.
“While the children of your supporters are engaged in playing political games over Lulu Mall, Hanuman Chalisa and Namaz, your children are either studying outside India — which is a very good thing — or are indulging in illegal activities under your patronage,” the Congress media wing head added.
Claiming that the process to transfer the excise commissioner who served a notice to Zoish Irani for the alleged fraudulent means used to get a licence for Silly Souls had now been initiated, Khera said Irani must explain whether this was done without her interference and also if the Union minister had a role to play in the grant of licence to the restaurant and bar.
Khera also claimed that Jairam Ramesh was informed that bouncers were being deployed outside Silly Souls since Saturday morning to prevent the media from entering the restaurant.
“Smriti Irani, who until yesterday, was asking all kinds of questions to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, must answer why people who want to ask valid questions about an illegal bar and restaurant are being prevented to do their job,” Khera said.
The Congress also released to the media copies of the show cause notice served on Zoish Irani by the Goa excise department.
Irani, on her part, has threatened legal action against Congress spokespersons, claiming that they “assassinated” and “publicly mutilated” her daughter’s character.
Take it from me: it is not Modi who will make sure of a Congress Mukt Bharat but, rather, Smriti Irani. pic.twitter.com/8HlgyfFuOh
— Anand Ranganathan (@ARanganathan72) July 23, 2022
Taking the moral high ground, Irani claimed that her daughter’s “only fault is that her mother holds a press conference on the loot of ₹5,000 crore by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. Her fault is that her mother fought against Rahul Gandhi in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls.”
Curiously, the minister, who had in April 2022 shared on Instagram a rave review that Silly Souls got from food writer Kunal Vijaykar and tagged Zoish as well as the restaurant and bar in her post while commenting “so proud”, is now claiming that her daughter does not own or run any bar.
Which Smriti Zubin Irani is lying? The one who on 14th April 2022 said she was proud of her daughter’s restaurant or the one who today says her daughter has nothing to do with the Silly Souls Bar & Cafe? https://t.co/pdG7FxYNWW
— Pawan Khera 🇮🇳 (@Pawankhera) July 23, 2022
Several Congress leaders took to Twitter sharing reports about Irani’s praise for her daughter and Silly Souls and questioned Irani’s denial of Zoish’s role at the restaurant and bar.
In one such post on Twitter, Khera said, “Which Smriti Zubin Irani is lying? The one who on 14th April 2022 said she was proud of her daughter’s restaurant or the one who today says her daughter has nothing to do with the Silly Souls Bar & Cafe?”