Three of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's closest political advisers were arrested today on charges of influence-peddling and corrupt business dealings.
They were among 10 people taken into custody by agents of India's Central Bureau of Investigations following simultaneous early-morning raids on their homes and offices in new Delhi and Patna, capital of Bihar state.
The three were the first former aides of Mrs. Gandhi, to be arrested since was ousted from power in national elections in March.
Among those apprehended under provisions of the prevention of Corruption Act were P.C. Sethi, who was Minister of Chemicals and Petroleum in Gandhi's Cabinet and was treasurer of the then-ruling Congress party; Yashpal Kapoor, manager of Mrs. Gandhi's 1971 election campaign; and R. K. Dhawan, Gandhi's private secretary for nearly 15 years.
Dhawan, Kapoor's nephew and a close associate of Mrs. Gandhi's son Sanjay, controlled access to the Prime Minister during the state of emergency she declared in June 1975, which lasted 21 months. His brother and father was also arrested.
A government statement said that documents seized in the raids pointed to a conspiracy to "acquire vast resources, including financial interests abroad, by grossly abusing the official position held by them and by indulging in corrupt practices." The 10 were also said to have created "bogus firms" to "siphon off ill-gotten money."
The arrests came as Gandhi was stepping up her own political activity, prompting speculation among observers here that she planned a comeback attempt.
In recent days Gandhi has traveled to rural areas seeking support from followers of the Congress Party, which is divided into factions supporting and opposing her.
Since defeating her, the coalition government of Minister Morarji Desai has launched at least three major probes into the political and financial dealings carried on by Gandhi, her family and her close associates during her 11-year rule.
Press reports here have linked Sethi to government decision that benefited firms controlled by Sanjay Gandhi, who is himself under investigation on several charges. Although no formal charges have been lodged against Sanjay, he has been cautioned not to leave the country.
Kapoor's work for Indira Gandhi in the 1971 election campaign, while he was still on a government payroll, was involved in one of two illegal campaign practices for which she was convicted on June 12, 1975.
Two weeks later, under pressure to resign or at least step aside pending appeal of her conviction, she imposed the state of emergency, in which tens of thousands of her political foes were arrested and civil liberties suspended.
Of the 10 men arrested this morning under the omnibus corruption bill, which was passed in the early days of the Desai government, all but Sethi are scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday. Sethi was released on bail immediately because of illness.