A case of graft and forgery against two key aides of state BJP chief Kamal Sharma has brought turmoil in the state BJP with the development contradicting the party's recent claims of taking "a high moral ground against drugs".
Since two leaders -- BJP's Mallanwala circle president Gurcharan Singh and district Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) chief Jaspal Singh alias Jimmy Sandhu -- were booked on Thursday for accepting graft for helping a drug accused, it has given enough ammunition to the detractors of Sharma within the party and in the government, who are now ready to rake up the issue.
The state BJP chief, who has been vocal on the issue of drugs in the recent past and had even demanded the resignation of revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia when the Enforcement Directorate had summoned him in the Bhola case, will have to do a lot of answering. The development has dented his image as the accused named in the FIR were groomed into the party under him.
After Arun Jaitley's defeat in the parliamentary polls from Amritsar, Sharma who had bounced back strongly by undertaking the party's membership campaign is clearly on the backfoot now.
One of Sharma's adversaries in the Punjab unit said, "It was Sharma who claimed to have set up a high moral ground on the issue of drugs. Now, the police have booked his coterie leaders for taking bribe to help an accused of drug smuggling."
After the state BJP chief got information about the names of a few of his close aides cropping up in the case, he tried to control the damage by suspending them from the party, but by then it was too late.
Sources in the party said Sharma's detractors were active days before the FIR and when the case was registered they did not waste time latching on to it and sounding the high command.
"How is it possible that as state president Sharma was not aware of the notorious activities of people like Gurcharan Singh, Jimmy Sandhu and Jugraj Katora who had cut their political teeth under him? Did he overlook their activities or was he ignorant? Even if he was ignorant, Sharma doesn't have the right to continue as the state party president," said one of his adversaries in the Punjab unit.
Political experts feel that as the state president, the case against his close aides has landed Sharma in a tight spot. His rival group is led by Rajya Sabha MP Avinash Rai Khanna. Also, Union minister of state Vijay Sampla, party leader Manoranjan Kalia and former state chief Ashwani Sharma have become active following the development.
Let law take its own course: Sharma
Sharma, when contacted, said it was being wrongly projected that Jimmy Sandhu was his personal assistant (PA). "He was the District Yuva Morcha chief and when I came to know about his and other leaders' names cropping up in the case, I suspended them from the party. Can anybody tell me what else I should have done as party president? After their names cropped up, I asked the police to conduct a fair probe. They should face the music if they are guilty. Politicising the issue is unfortunate," said Sharma.
Support for Sharma
Facing attack from different quarters, the state BJP chief has received support from his party with cabinet ministers Chunni Lal Bhagat and Anil Joshi, chief parliamentary secretary Som Parkash and former minister Tikshan Sud, coming in support of the state BJP chief.
In different statements issued from Chandigarh, these leaders condemned the demand for Sharma's resignation by terming it a politically motivated move.
"By asking for the resignation of the accused leaders the state BJP chief has proved that ours is a party with a difference. Such a prompt step taken by Sharma in wake of just the names cropping up in a criminal case, shows his exemplary conduct, for which he should be appreciated," Bhagat said.
Sud said the demand for resignation was laughable when those involved in the case had already been suspended from the party. Those who were demanding the resignation of Sharma were actually helping the drug mafia that Sharma had attacked in recent times, he said.
Som Parkash said Sharma had acted in an exemplary manner after the case and should be appreciated for setting high moral standards in politics. "It has happened for the first time in Punjab that the leaders were suspended from the party even before the registration of the FIR," the CPS said.