A family feud in India's most famed dynasty spilled into the open on Thursday when police slapped charges against Maneka Gandhi, a move she swiftly blamed on her estranged sister-in-law Sonia Gandhi.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) charged the 49-year-old lawmaker with "criminal conspiracy and cheating" when she served as culture minister in India's 1998-2004 Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.
A CBI spokesman said the two cases related to alleged "irregularities" in distribution of state funds by Maneka, India's best known animal rights campaigner who joined politics in 1982 following the death of her husband Sanjay Gandhi in a plane crash.
The BJP government was routed by Sonia Gandhi's Congress party in national elections in 2004.
The CBI spokesman said the cases against the model-turned-parliamentarian came in the wake of orders by the Delhi High Court to investigate allegations that Maneka misused her office during the BJP's six-year tenure.
Maneka, who won her first parliamentary polls in 1989, was livid with Italian-born Sonia, president of the ruling Congress party.
"There is no doubt in my mind as the CBI has told me that ... the Congress president is behind all this," Gandhi told Times-Now Television, accusing her sister-in-law with using the federal police agency to settle personal scores.
"This is not Italy. The CBI is not the mafioso ... You cannot use this against political opponents in such cavalier style," Maneka said.
Earlier this week, Maneka charged that Congress had issued instructions to tap her phone and to "harass" her.
"A lot of pressure is being brought ... to divert attention and to settle enmity," said Maneka, who forced former BJP premier Atal Behari Vajpayee to set up a ministry of animal welfare that she headed along with her culture and other portfolios.
Party spokesman Satyavrat Chaturvedi said the action against Maneka was inevitable.
"The matter was pending before the high court ... and the court wanted the Home Ministry to investigate." Chaturvedi said.