Bengaluru: The All India Mahila Empowerment Party (AIMEP), launched by businesswoman Dr Nowhera Shaik, managed to capture a fair share of the spotlight during the recently-concluded Karnataka Assembly elections. Its potential to spend money on publicity had created curiosity among political circles. Many people came forward to contest on behalf of the party. However, they are now suffering the consequences of spending large sums of their own money on the promise of getting it back post-elections.
Now, the police, based on a complaint filed by one of the members Heena Kouser at the Commercial Street Police Station, have pasted a notice at the AIMEP office in Bengaluru, directing four people, including Shaik, to appear for enquiry within three days. With her whereabouts unknown, the candidates, many of whom have been staying at the AIMEP office for close to a month, say they are neck-deep in debt.
'Rather commit suicide than go home empty-handed'
The AIMEP's symbol is a diamond — signifying bringing brightness into the lives of people. Fifty-two women from various parts of Karnataka came forward to contest in the Assembly elections. They believed that the AIMEP would facilitate their empowerment, but they ended up bankrupt.
“I was elated when I received a phone call from an MEP member asking me whether I'd be willing to contest in the elections. I didn't imagine that my debut in politics would become a nightmare,’’ says Rasheeda Begum from Madikeri.
According to Begum, the AIMEP has promised to provide money for election expenses, but failed to do so, thus making her bankrupt. "They promised to deposit money in my bank account at the time of issuing the ‘B’ form but did nothing. After issuing it, they told me the money would be deposited in my account within a few days, but it wasn't," she complains.
She claims spending around Rs 20 lakh during canvassing. "I have been staying here for the last 26 days since it is difficult for me to repay the loan I took from my neighbours. Many people worked for me during canvassing, I am yet to pay them. On an average, I spent Rs 1 lakh per day. I'd rather commit suicide than go back empty-handed to my native town," she says.
Around 20 AIMEP candidates have been staying at the AIMEP office at GEM Plaza on Infantry Road in central Bengaluru, demanding compensation. “They made us sign agreements and hand over blank cheques to prevent us from shifting loyalties. I spent the money I had kept aside to pay school admission fees for my three grandchildren. I also borrowed money. Now, it is difficult for me to face my family,’’ says Latha N Terdal from Hubballi, who contested from Hubli-Dharwad West, and netted 279 votes.
Shabana Shaik contested from the Puttur constituency. She got 425 votes but has similar complaints against the AIMEP leadership. “They promised they would deposit Rs 20 lakh in my bank account and hand over Rs 1 crore in cash towards election expenses, but I have not received a single rupee. They manhandled me when I demanded they return the money, blank cheques and agreement papers — I will not go home without all this. I am compelled to stay here with my daughter even though there are no basic amenities in place,’’ regrets Shaik.
Candidates misguided us: MEP
However, Siraj Ahmed Jafferi, spokesperson of AIMEP, Karnataka, claims the protest is a mere blackmail tactic by these people, who misguided the AIMEP leadership on their potential in their respective constituencies. “We never promised or assured to deposit money in their bank accounts. We gave tickets because we wanted to be different from other political parties,’’ says Jafferi, who hails from Raichur.
According to him, the staff at the AIMEP office were forced to flee due to the agitators' unruly behaviour. "They attacked the staff and filed false complaints against two of them, who have gotten bail from the Mayo Hall court. Other staff members remained absent, fearing attacks," he said.
Perhaps Shaik’s lifestyle has made these unsuccessful candidates believe she can redeem them from debt. Shaik was staying at The Leela Palace and made the candidates and media meet her at this hotel, but her whereabouts were unknown as soon as the results were out. "I slept on the footpath outside Leela Palace at night, while she was enjoying the comforts of the hotel. I wanted to go home that night itself, but waited to meet her expecting to get money,’’ recalls Terdal.
Refuting Terdal’s allegations, G Mumtaz Aleem, media advisor, AIMEP, said that it was the candidates who cheated them by making false claims about their potential. These candidates, he says, have claimed having more than 3,500 booth-level committee members in each Assembly constituency. “Only a few candidates got more than 500 votes. If they have enrolled over 3,000 members in each constituency, how come they got only 500 or less votes?’’ asks Aleem.
He said Shaik had clarified in a statement that allegations against the AIMEP are baseless and deliberate. She had claimed that the terms and conditions agreed to by both the parties are well within Election Commission regulations, and these agreements are documented. She added that the MEP office has already started returning the documents. She has also stated that they are ready to return the documents by courier if the candidates can't collect them physically.
Aleem said Shaik has been apprised of the developments, but her whereabouts are not known, and that she is expected to arrive in the city after Ramzan.
Meanwhile, AIMEP leaders blamed the police for not taking their complaints against those creating havoc at the office seriously. “I filed complaints against 13 people, but in vain. They have not registered my complaints for reasons unknown," said Jafferi.
The author is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
Updated Date: Jun 13, 2018 17:07 PM