A Delhi Police team on Sunday queried Congress leader Rahul Gandhi at his residence over his remark made during the Bharat Jodo Yatra that "women are still being sexually assaulted" and asked him to provide information about the "victims" to take up their complaints, officials said.
A furious Congress condemned the Delhi Police action after the cops knocked on Gandhi's doors for the third time in five days, and attacked the central government, accusing it of harassment, intimidation, and political vendetta, but the BJP rejected the charge and said the police was "only discharging its lawful duty".
Terming the police action as "unprecedented", Gandhi, in his preliminary reply, questioned the sudden urgency shown by the Delhi Police over his January 30 remarks made in Srinagar and sought eight to 10 days to give a detailed response, sources said.
The police team headed by Special Commissioner of Police (Law and Order) Sagar Preet Hooda arrived at Gandhi's 12, Tughlaq Lane residence in the high-security area at around 10 am and was able to meet the Congress leader after two hours, officials said, adding it left at around 1 pm.
This was the third time that Gandhi was approached in this regard, the officials said, adding a notice with a questionnaire was sent to him earlier seeking details of victims who approached him about sexual harassment as the police wants to initiate a probe into the matter as soon as it gets the information.
Security had been stepped up around Gandhi's residence as the police team descended there. Congress leaders Pawan Khera, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Jairam Ramesh, and others arrived while the police team was inside.
A group of party workers protested outside and raised slogans. Four-five Congress workers were detained, taken to a nearby police station and later released, an official said.
According to the police, Gandhi stated in Srinagar during the Bharat Jodo Yatra that ''I have heard that women are still being sexually assaulted'', and since the Yatra had passed through Delhi also, they wanted to ascertain if any victim had approached the Congress leader here so that they can initiate a probe into the matter.
"The police had asked him to give details of these victims so that security could be provided to them," an official said.
Terming it a serious matter, Special Commissioner of Police Hooda said after Gandhi made his remark, they conducted a local inquiry to collect details if any woman had approached Gandhi during the Yatra's Delhi leg about their ordeal.
"But no such incident came to the notice of our officials also nor did we find any victim," the officer said.
Hooda said that after he failed to collect any information in this regard, they decided to approach the Congress leader himself and accordingly, a notice with a questionnaire was also sent to him seeking details of victims who approached him about sexual harassment.
"We had tried to contact him (Gandhi) but he was abroad then. So, today, I, along with my team, went to his residence and communicated to his staff about the same," he said.
The officer said he met Gandhi and urged him to provide details.
"After we get details, we want to ensure that legal action is taken in the matter at the earliest and there should be no loss of evidence and no victim should be further victimised or abused," he added.
The development comes amid allegations by the Congress and other opposition parties that the central government was misusing its agencies to target political rivals and the row over Rahul Gandhi's remarks in the UK, with the BJP demanding that he apologise for insulting the country on foreign soil.
Gandhi, in a four-page preliminary reply to Delhi Police sent a little before 4 pm, asked whether this had anything to do with his position taken both inside and outside Parliament on the Adani issue, sources said.
He also asked whether campaigns of other political parties including the ruling BJP, have been subjected to such kind of scrutiny or questioning, they added.
Addressing a joint press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, party general secretary Jairam Ramesh and national spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said the move was a clear case of "vendetta, intimidation and harassment" to create an atmosphere against the former Congress chief.
Gehlot warned that the central dispensation was setting a bad precedent by registering cases on statements of opposition leaders made during political campaigns, adding that the BJP leaders, including Union ministers, could face similar action over remarks made in states not ruled by it.
The BJP, however, said Gandhi should provide the information sought by the police so that the victims can get justice.
Party spokesperson Sambit Patra said police should have information about incidents claimed by Gandhi and that is why the Delhi Police has followed the legal procedure to meet the Congress leader for details.
He took a swipe at the Congress, saying the party is now crying that "democracy is in danger" over the lawful action by the police.
"During BJY, Rahul Gandhi had claimed that he met women, who told him that they were raped and molested, but didn't get justice. Delhi police has been asking for details but Rahul wouldn't tell.
"Assuming he didn't lie then, it shows his feeble commitment towards ensuring justice," Amit Malviya, in-charge of BJP's national information and technology department, tweeted.