Trading on Saffron
The BJP has never had it so bad in Kerala. Just as the party was consolidating itself, a wave of scam allegations have hit the party. Senior party functionaries have been scurrying for cover ever since news broke of bribes being taken to facilitate a Medical Council of India (MCI) licence for a private medical institution here.
It all started in May when R. Shaji, chairman of the S.R. Educational and Charitable Trust, complained to state BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan that the party’s cooperation cell convenor R.S. Vinod had cheated him of
Rs 5.6 crore, money paid to get MCI approval for the trust’s medical college. Shaji also named BJP MP Richard Hay’s assistant Kannadas and Kummanam’s PA R. Sivaraman.
The Kerala BJP chief set up an in-house committee to look into the allegations. Shaji told the committee that the money was paid through Vinod to Satish Nair, a middleman with connections at the Centre. Incredibly, Kummanam took no action even after he got the probe report. But after it was leaked and the ensuing media shindig in mid-July, he had to expel Vinod from the party. (Ironically, it was Asianet News, a TV network owned by NDA vice-president Rajeev Chandrasekhar, that broke the story on July 18.) But by then, the ugly factionalism in the BJP state unit was out in the open. New allegations have been made almost every day since then. There are reports of lakhs being pocketed to sanction the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi scheme outlets, fake receipt books and ‘donations’ worth lakhs collected for party events disappearing (the BJP national convention in Kozhikode in 2016 is specifically under the scanner). And more and more complaints of local leaders taking bribes to fix central government jobs. The latest in all this is an internal memo being passed around among the BJP cadre. The memo, while listing a host of scams, says the state leadership has misappropriated at least Rs 200 crore since the Modi government came to power at the Centre.
The revelations on prime-time TV and the papers have severely dented the BJP’s credibility in the state. “It’s shocking,” a senior BJP leader told india today admitting the scandal had “damaged the party’s image even at the national level”. But that may not be the end of it: the state vigilance and anti-corruption bureau is investigating the BJP leaders named in the various scams.
POCKETS FULL A BJP rally in Thiruvananthapuram; (inset) sacked leader R.S. Vinod