The infighting in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kerala unit has intensified after an internal inquiry implicating senior leaders for accepting bribes was leaked to the media last week.
The inquiry looked into allegations that party leaders had taken crores of rupees to get Medical Council of India recognition for two private medical colleges.
The BJP state leadership, which had kept the inquiry report under wraps for several months, tried to hush up the scandal by expelling RS Vinod, convenor of its state cooperative cell, from the party immediately after the report was leaked.
The inquiry found that Vinod had taken Rs 5.6 crore from R Shaji, chairman of SR Medical College and Research Centre in Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram district, and the money was transferred to a middleman in New Delhi through the hawala route. The party’s general secretary MT Ramesh had taken Rs 5.6 crore from the owner of another medical college in Palakkad district – Kerala Medical College – for getting the Medical Council of India recognition. Ramesh is considered heir apparent to the state BJP chief Kummanam Rajashekharan.
More than the bribery scandal, however, what baffled the party was the alleged hawala transaction by a top BJP leader. The party had justified Narendra Modi government’s demonetisation as a drive to weed out black money and hawala transactions.
The Medical Council of India turned down the request for approval from the two medical colleges on Monday.
The bribery scandal has dealt a big blow to the Kerala BJP, coming as it did when the party was reeling from the arrest of its leaders in Thrissur for allegedly printing fake currency notes in June. The police had seized fake currency notes of Rs 2,000, Rs 500, Rs 100 and Rs 50 denominations worth Rs 1.37 lakh from the house of BJP leaders Eracheri Rajesh and his brother Rakesh.
Under a cloud
Vinod’s expulsion, meanwhile, has intensified factional fighting in the BJP.
Ramesh has reportedly demanded action against members of the rival faction for defaming him. “The report was leaked to defame me,” he reportedly told the state committee at its meeting in Kochi on July 22. “I will quit the party if action is not taken against those who targeted me.”
B Gopalakrishnan, the party’s state secretary who is a confidant of Ramesh, alleged that the “conspiracy” was hatched in Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram. “There was a coordinated effort to defame Ramesh,” he said at the July 22 meeting.
Ramesh said he was confident that conspiracy against him would be exposed soon. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” he told Scroll.in on Monday. “My hands are clean. I am sure that BJP will nail the conspirators against me. I will not comment on the bribery allegations now as the party’s central committee is inquiring into it.”
The leaked report seems to have opened a Pandora’s box in the larger Sangh Parivar as well. Over the past week, allegations have been levelled against leaders at various levels of financial impropriety, including accepting bribes for sanctioning medicine outlets under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Scheme, and of conducting an illegal fund collection drive during the BJP’s national council meeting in Kozhikode in 2016.
Another serious allegation is that the BJP candidates did not get the full amount of money released by the national leadership for the 2016 Assembly election. The party had released Rs 1 crore each to the 15 candidates who were expected to put up strong fights, but only three of them got the promised amount. Those who did not get the money alleged that some state leaders had siphoned it off. It is learnt that the central leadership has started a probe into the matter.
On the warpath
Although the BJP has expanded its presence across Kerala, the party’s state unit has always been haunted by factional fighting. A three-member panel that inquired the party’s poll debacle in 2006 had observed that the party was in the grip of factionalism. Not much has changed since.
The factional feud went out of control with the expulsion of senior leader PP Mukundan in 2006. He was re-inducted in 2016.
The Kerala BJP suffered a split in 2007, with former state president K Raman Pillai forming Kerala Jana Paksham. Pillai too came back to the party in 2016.
The factional feud has overshadowed BJP President Amit Shah’s efforts to make the party a serious contender in 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly elections.
Shah appointed Rajashekharan the state party chief with the express mandate of arresting the factional fighting. He has not had much success if the latest events are any indication.
Kerala is the only state where the BJP has been unable to make significant electoral gains. It did not win a single seat in the state in the 2014 general election. In last year’s Assembly election, the party managed just one seat despite a high-pitched campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Shah is keen to rectify this, but his own party leaders are not making it easy.