To add to its woes, the leadership of the party in the state is vertically divided.

 

New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala is in a political soup, not sweet but sour. After forfeiting its lone seat in the recently held Assembly elections, the party’s state leadership is now mired in controversies surrounding hawala money transactions and pay-offs for political gain. To add to its woes, the leadership of the party in the state is vertically divided. What started off as an ordinary highway robbery of waylaying a vehicle carrying some cash on the Kodakara highway in Thrissur district on 3April has now snowballed into a full-scale scandal dragging a host of state BJP leaders which includes its firebrand leader state president K. Surendran. The role of BJP came to light in the wake of a stabbing incident involving two sections of party workers a day after the Kodakara incident. Incidentally, BJP considers Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala, as one of its strongholds. According to police sources, Surendran will be called for questioning any time in the coming days. As of now, the party stands accused as the “brain behind the hawala” as it is alleged that the unaccounted money to the tune of Rs 3.5crore was brought to Kerala for election campaigning. While it has been reported that the party spent around Rs 250crore during the Assembly election campaign, Surendran had gone on record that BJP would form a government in Kerala if the party could muster 35 seats in the 140-member Assembly. At that time itself, the statement had invited unwanted attention to the party’s “ability to buy up opponents” and had subsequently been cited as one of the reasons for the party’s dismal performance in the polls.

It is a known fact that over the years Kerala has become the most preferred destination to channel hawala money. It is a common practice among thousands of migrant labour in the hailing from north Kerala to transfer money back home through hawala dealers. But of late, it has come to light that terrorist organisations too had taken this route to transfer money and most of the funds have emanated through such deals taking place in Kerala. The state reportedly accounts for Rs 23,000crore hawala money annually.

But what has been more damaging to the party is the revelation of an alliance leader in the state claiming her party chief had demanded Rs 10crore from the BJP state president K. Surendran to return to the NDA fold before the Assembly elections and had obtained a minimum of Rs10 lakh. What had made the allegation more prominent is the fact that the politician concerned, C.K. Janu, a highly popular tribal leader of the state, who is heading the Janathipathya Rashtriya Sabha (JRS), had indeed returned to the NDA fold just before the elections and contested from Sultan Bathery in Wayanad district which has got national attention after Rahul Gandhi successfully contested from there to the Lok Sabha. The allegation has been levelled by JRS treasurer Praseetha Azhikode, a former close associate of Janu. Praseetha has released an audio of a purported conversation over phone between her (Praseetha claims to be the go-between) and Surendran which refers to the alleged handover of Rs10 lakh to JRS chief C.K. Janu. “…let her come on (March) 6…I will hand it over personally, you may come too…this money dealing…during the elections, it is not possible to carry from here to there…” a voice in the clip, which Praseetha claims is that of Surendran, is heard saying. Janu, who at one time was the tribal face of Kerala, has denied the allegation and has initiated legal proceedings against her estranged colleague. Janu, generally identified with the larger Left, had floated JRS in 2016 and to everybody’s surprise contested the Assembly elections that year under the NDA banner. But later she fell out with the BJP over “unfulfilled promises” and was in touch with CPM to revive broken ties. Surendran on his part has admitted to having a conversation with Praseetha, but denies any exchange of money. He also claimed that Janu does not need a mediator to approach him for cash since they are known to each other for so long.

The latest allegation has left the BJP leadership flabbergasted since many of them are being probed by the Kerala Police in connection with the highway robbery of “unaccounted election fund” totalling Rs3.5 crore in Thrissur. Since Surendran’s name is dragged in, political circles are agog with rumours that the Kerala Police are “itching to lay their hands on his boss (Read Union minister V. Muraleedharan)”. Surendran belongs to the Muraleedharan group in the state BJP and his elevation to the post was credited to the latter. There is every possibility that this will take the course of a Centre-state tussle with the Kerala Police insisting on questioning V. Muraleedharan. It is also seen as a chance for CPM to give it back to the BJP which had taken credit for investigation by central agencies into the gold smuggling and related scandals involving Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office not long ago.

The sad part of it all is that Surendran has been left alone to defend himself and the party. Muraleedharan who comes out with statements at the drop of a hat is conspicuous by his silence. Senior leaders such as Kummanam Rajasekharan, P.K. Krishna Das (who leads the rival faction), M.T. Ramesh, Shobha Surendran, A.N. Radhakrishnan are all in silence mode. No spokesmen from the party appear for the daily channel debates. It is ironic that a state unit of the party that had initiated moves like demonetisation to wipe out black money in the country has become a party in dealing with black money.

As one old time RSS hand pointed out, the state party leadership is caught in a Padmavyuha from which it doesn’t know how to get out! It is a sad state of affairs for the ruling party at the Centre in this southern state where it had high hopes of coming to power just a couple of years back.