Trad­ing on Saf­fron

India Today - - STATES - By Jeemon Ja­cob

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

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