[The complaint against the Gandhis and four other senior party officials was filed in 2012 by Subramanian Swamy, a onetime economics professor who has made a career of bringing corruption cases against politicians and officials, typically those who are rivals to the B.J.P.]
Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, center, arrived at a
for bail on Saturday. Credit Rajat Gupta/European Press photo Agency
The criminal charge, filed by a legal gadfly who is also a senior member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, claims that Mrs. Gandhi and Rahul, her son, illegally gained control over real estate that belonged to a defunct party newspaper and that is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The Gandhis, who deny any wrongdoing, were each granted unconditional bail of 50,000 rupees, or about $754, their lawyers said.
The case, which is likely to drag on for years, may test the depth of support for the Gandhis’ party, the Indian National Congress, which suffered a bitter electoral defeat 19 months ago.
Past prosecutions of Indian leaders have led to an outpouring of sympathy, setting the stage for political revival. Some defendants turn their hearings into a kind of populist theater, often appearing among throngs of well-wishers.
Mrs. Gandhi arrived at court with top party officials on Saturday, but she mainly opted against theatrics, pausing to acknowledge party workers who bent to touch her feet in a sign of veneration. In remarks at the party’s offices, she promised to fight.
“We are very familiar with the attacks and the malicious campaigns of our political opponents,” she said. “None of us is scared. Our fight against them will continue.”
The complaint against the Gandhis and four other senior party officials was filed in 2012 by Subramanian Swamy, a onetime economics professor who has made a career of bringing corruption cases against politicians and officials, typically those who are rivals to the B.J.P.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, however, have distanced themselves from Mr. Swamy’s efforts. M. J. Akbar, a spokesman, said neither the party nor the government had any role in the complaint against the Gandhis.
“An individual case has been filed by Dr. Swamy,” he said. “He has filed it a long time ago. The law is proceeding at its own pace, and on its own merits.”
The central government has also acknowledged Mr. Swamy’s importance, however, by providing him with its so-called Z level of security protection, the second-highest category. On Thursday, Mr. Swamy said, he was granted the use of a coveted government bungalow, normally reserved for top officials.
In an interview, Mr. Swamy said he was confident that his efforts enjoyed the full support of the B.J.P.’s representatives in Parliament — “the mood is absolute euphoria over what I have done” — and of the party’s ideological “fountainhead,” the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist organization.
He said that he had not asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for support, but that he suspected Mr. Modi would approve.
“I have known him since 1972,” Mr. Swamy said. “He has come around to my view on many things, including that you cannot be conciliatory to Sonia Gandhi. I’m sure if I went and talked to him now on this issue, he would be quite happy with me, that I have shown her her place.”
The complaint claims that the Gandhis and other top Congress officials misused resources allocated to The National Herald, a newspaper that was founded by Jawaharlal Nehru, the great-grandfather of Rahul, in 1937 and shut down in 2008, after years of mounting debts.
Mr. Swamy contends that when the newspaper shut down, it failed to pay back outstanding debts to the party of 900 million rupees which had been extended on a tax-free basis. He also contends that party assets associated with the newspaper, including real estate worth about $300 million, were absorbed into a newly formed nonprofit organization whose principal shareholders include Rahul and Sonia Gandhi.
Congress officials rejected those allegations, arguing that none of the shareholders in the nonprofit, Young Indian, drew any income from it, and that the real estate assets were not owned by the nonprofit.
Scores of party workers were gathered outside Congress headquarters, some bleary-eyed and unshaven after all-night bus rides to the capital, propping up life-size portraits of Mr. Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi, and her son Rajiv Gandhi, whose assassinations thrust Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv’s wife, into politics. Asha Pal Singh, 58, a rice farmer from Rae Bareli, the Uttar Pradesh constituency Mrs. Gandhi represents, said he had come in a convoy of 20 buses.
“Indira Gandhi was a lady of sacrifice, and Sonia Gandhi is also a lady of sacrifice,” he said. “My father went to jail for Indira Gandhi, and, if the necessity comes, I will go to jail for Sonia Gandhi.”
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.