Eight opposition parties have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleging misuse of central investigation agencies to go after them, amid the political war over the arrest of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Manish Sisodia.
The Congress has stayed away from the letter signed by opposition leaders, including Chief Ministers K Chandrashekar Rao, Mamata Banerjee, Bhagwant Mann and Arvind Kejriwal. The DMK, Nitish Kumar's JDU and HD Kumaraswamy's JDS have also not joined the move.
The Gandhis are being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) over alleged money laundering linked to Young Indian's takeover of Associated Journals Ltd, the company which ran the National Herald newspaper. Both Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi were questioned by the ED last year.
Meanwhile, the AAP slammed the Congress and said, "Congress disappears when national issues are raised".
"Congress has never stood with the opposition, this has been its history. We have been hearing the BJP's claim that they will put Rahul Gandhi and Robert Vadra in jail. This is just a war of words. Congress disappears when national issues are raised," said AAP's spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj.
The opposition leaders cited the example of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who was under the scanner of the CBI and the ED in 2014 and 2015 over the Saradha chit fund scam when he was with the Congress.
Others who have signed the letter are National Conference's Farooq Abdullah, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, Sena's Uddav Thackeray, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav.
"We hope you would agree that India is still a democratic country. The blatant misuse of central agencies against the members of the opposition appears to suggest that we have transitioned from being a democracy to an autocracy," the letter said.
"... After a long witch-hunt, Manish Sisodia was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in connection with alleged irregularity without a shred of evidence against him," the opposition leaders said in the letter to PM Modi.
"Out of the total number of key politicians booked, arrested, raided or interrogated by the investigation agencies under your administration since 2014, the maximum belongs to the opposition. Interestingly, investigation agencies go slow on cases against opposition politicians who join the BJP," the letter said.
"However, the case didn't progress after he (Mr Sarma) joined the BJP. Similarly, former TMC (Trinamool Congress) leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Mukul Roy were under the ED and CBI scanner in the Narada sting operation case, but the cases didn't progress after they joined the BJP ahead of the assembly election in the state (West Bengal)," the letter alleged.
"Since 2014, there has been a marked rise in the number of raids conducted, cases lodged against and arrest of the opposition leaders. Be it Lalu Prasad Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal), Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena), Azam Khan (Samajwadi Party), Nawab Malik, Anil Deshmukh (NCP), Abhishek Banerjee (TMC), central agencies have often sparked suspicion that they were working as extended wings of the ruling dispensation at the centre. In many such cases, the timings of the cases lodged or arrests made have coincided with elections making it abundantly clear that they were politically motivated," the opposition leaders said in the letter.
Mr Sisodia was arrested for alleged corruption in framing a liquor policy for Delhi. The BJP has rubbished the AAP's political vendetta argument, saying even if he was the Education Minister who may have done some work for improving schools, he cannot use that as a curtain behind which he could indulge in corruption.
"It is regrettable that even after Sisodia's arrest, the Delhi government is not stopping its dirty politics in the name of education and has now stooped as low as to involving innocent school kids in it," Delhi BJP spokesperson Praveen Shankar Kapoor said on Friday, referring to an alleged plan to set up "I Love Manish Sisodia" desks in Delhi government schools to gather support for their arrested leader, which the AAP has said is a fake news cooked up by the BJP to tarnish the image of Delhi's ruling party.
The central agencies have over the years maintained they do not arrest people over false charges and only leave them if they are not found guilty after a thorough investigation, irrespective of their political background.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a press release)