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Black money row to poll show: Kerala BJP finds itself in a dock

Thiruvananthapuram: Pressure mounts on Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party as state chief K Surendran is set to meet party’s top leaders in New Delhi to discuss issues like the black money row, performance at the assembly elections and alleged bribery case, and try to come up with strategies for the state unit along with the way ahead
UPDATED ON JUN 10, 2021 12:29 AM IST

Thiruvananthapuram: Pressure mounts on Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party as state chief K Surendran is set to meet party’s top leaders in New Delhi to discuss issues like the black money row, performance at the assembly elections and alleged bribery case, and try to come up with strategies for the state unit along with the way ahead.

After a humiliating defeat in the April 6 assembly election where the BJP lost its lone seat in the southern state, the central leadership had sought a report from three important leaders — former DGP Jacob Thomas, Metro Man E Sreedharan (both were candidates) and former bureaucrat C V Andan Bose — on the state of affairs in the party. The central leadership reportedly recommended sweeping changes in the light of poor performance, faction feud and subsequent controversies associated with the state unit.

Amid the rising infighting, political observers believe that mounting differences among party leaders had resulted in the poll debacle. While state leaders have underplayed Surendran’s Delhi visit, speculation is rife about an overhaul.

“It was not a summon but a planned visit. Besides, our political opponents and a section of media are also baying for the party blood,” BJP leader M T Ramesh said while denying speculations of change in state party leadership. A BJP team also called on Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Wednesday, alleging a ploy to defame the party.

Besides the internal feud, the party is also under a cloud of purported highway heist and hawala transactions, alleged pay off to an independent candidate and transaction of money to tribal leader C K Janu, a candidate in Wayanad, to remain in the NDA.

A look at the controversies:

Highway heist

The alleged highway robbery took place on April 3, three days before the state went to the polls. A man named S Shamseer told police that he was transporting some cash when he was allegedly waylaid by a group of people in Kodakara on Thrissur-Ernakulam highway who looted his vehicle after assaulting him.

Shamseer, however, filed a police complaint four days later (April 7) and alleged that 25 lakh, which was meant for some property transactions, was stolen from his vehicle. Police found several inconsistencies in Shamseer’s statements when he was asked why he took four days to register the complaint. Shamseer later named one A K Dharmarajan, a local leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

During the probe, Dharmarajan told police that the money was meant for election activities and was collected from several people. After arresting 20 people, all history-sheeters allegedly involved in the heist, police found that the recoveries ran into several crores ( 3.50 crore). Police have so far seized 1.75 crore and gold from all the accused.

During the probe, Dharmajan reportedly told police that the money was meant to be handed over to BJP Alappuzha treasurer K G Kartha and that party state organising secretary M Ganeshan was aware of the transportation.

However, the case took a turn when one of the main accused P Deepak was found at the BJP district office in Thrissur after the incident, police said. BJP leaders, however, claimed that Deepak visited the office as part of an internal probe being carried out by the party.

A special investigation team (SIT) formed by the state police to probe the case now suspect the money came from Karnataka through hawala channels and was allegedly meant for distribution during the elections. Call records showed that after the money was recovered by the police, both Shamseer and Dharmarajan made several calls to Surendran and his son K Harikrishnan.

On Monday, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the SIT had handed over the details of the case to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) after the central agency sought the same.

Meanwhile, a local court in Thrissur on Wednesday dismissed a plea by Dharmarajan seeking possession of the seized money. The court said an investigation into the case was underway and sought more details from the SIT in this regard. The Congress has sought a court-monitored probe into the highway heist and hawala transactions. “Only a court-monitored probe will unravel the truth, otherwise the state government will weaken the case in lieu of some of the cases being probed by central agencies,” party MP K Muraleedharan said.

Pay-off to independent candidate

Just when the party was struggling to come clear in the alleged highway heist case, a case of bribery against Surendran surfaced. Independent candidate K Sundara, who had contested against the state BJP chief from Mancheswaram (north Kerala) seat, alleged last week that he was under pressure to withdraw his candidature. He said that while he had demanded 15 lakh, he was paid only 2.5 lakh and handed over a smartphone.

Besides these, Sundara alleged that he was offered a wine parlour and a house in Karnataka once Surendran emerged victorious. However, after Surendran’s loss to Muslim League’s AKM Ashraf, party leaders refused to meet the promises made to him, he said.

Sundara did later withdraw his nomination and campaigned for Surendran but did not join the party.

Following the allegations, CPI(M) candidate V V Ramesan moved Kasaragod magistrate court which directed Kerala Police to register a case against the BJP leader. Surendran was booked under section 17I (B) of Indian Penal Code among other charges.

The party said it will challenge the move in a higher court. “Both the ruling CPI(M) and opposition Congress have joined hands to discredit the BJP. Some of the recent allegations are part of this campaign,” party leader A N Radhakrishnan said.

Sundara, who now claims to be associated with the Bahujan Samaj Party, said he is ready to depose against the BJP leader. Interestingly in the 2016 assembly elections, Sundara had secured 467 votes while Surendran lost the seat by a slender margin of 89 votes.

The independent candidate said that this time, the BJP was more alert and several leaders from Karnataka had pressurised him to withdraw his candidature from the election.

Surendran lost the April polls by a bigger margin of 745 votes to Ashraf. “It is only the tip of the iceberg. The ongoing investigation will give a clear picture later. The party spent crores of rupees in the recent elections,” CPI(M) acting secretary A Vijayaraghavan said.

Largesse to tribal leader

A fresh controversy surfaced last week after a leader belonging to Janadhipathya Rashtriya Party (JRP), an ally of the BJP, alleged that Surendran had given 10 lakh to their party chief C K Janu for returning to the NDA fold before the polls.

Janu, a tribal leader from Wayanad, had earlier severed links with the BJP and NDA but later contested for them from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad district. JRP leader Praseetha Azeekode said though Janu had sought a bigger amount, Surendran gave her only 10 lakh. After her disclosure, an audio tape surfaced in which Surendran was purportedly heard talking to Janu, promising her 10 lakh. HT could not verify the authenticity of the tape.

However, Janu claimed that the money was part of the poll campaign expenses and no payment was involved for return. “The allegations have invited more ignominy to the party than recent poll defeat,” political observer A Jayashankar said.

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