BJP leaders from the southern Indian state of Kerala seldom get any position in the government when the party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comes to power at the Centre.
But this does not prevent them from getting the fruits of power. While the party leaders allegedly amassed crores of rupees from selling petrol pumps when the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led government came to power in 1999, they turned to medical colleges during the current regime led by Narendra Modi.
The medical college scam from BJP's Kerala unit comes barely a month after a youth leader of the BJP in Thrissur was arrested for printing and distributing fake currency, revealing how the party leaders tried to make use of the ambitious demonetisation scheme of Modi for making quick bucks.
As regards the medical college bribery case, an internal inquiry ordered by BJP state president Kummanam Rajashekharan has confirmed one case, in which a little known leader from Kollam district took a bribe of Rs 5.60 crore from a person for getting the approval of Medical Council of India (MCI) for starting a medical college at Varkala.
The two-member probe panel of senior leaders KP Sreesan Master and AK Nazeer found that RS Vinod, who is the state convenor of BJP’s cooperative cell, had taken the bribe from R Shaji, chairman of SR Educational and Charitable Trust, Varkala, citing his connections in New Delhi which included a person close to state president Rajashekharan. The money was paid in Delhi through a hawala route.
The probe panel also named state general secretary MT Ramesh in connection with another medical college at Palakkad but it did not inquire into the complaint. Nazeer told a television channel that they did not pursue the probe as they could not get enough material to establish the involvement of Ramesh in the scam.
However, leaders of Congress and Communist Party of India (Marxist) allege that the party may have restrained the panel from going further into the scam as its links could reach up to New Delhi. Curiously, the government had maintained silence when MPs of both Congress and CPM raised the issue during the Monsoon Session in the Lok Sabha on 19 July.
But the BJP state president moved swiftly after the issue rocked the Parliament and expelled Vinod from the primary membership of the party. Rajashekharan, who had initially termed the media reports regarding the scam as rumours, announced the action hours before the party’s core committee meeting, which was expected to discuss the issue.
The core committee meeting scheduled to be held at Alappuzha was later cancelled. The party chief has denied any links of the party with the scam. He said that the BJP had nothing to do with the alleged bribe.
Congress and CPM leaders, meanwhile, view the hasty action from BJP as part of a clear attempt to bury the case like the multi-crore petrol pump scam during the Vajpayee regime. The petrol pump case that involved bribe to the tune of Rs 18 crores was closed without any action against anybody even though a party committee found it responsible for the dismal performance of the party candidate in the 2005 Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha by-election.
However, the CPM-led state government is not ready to spare the BJP in the medical college bribery case. It has sought to go deep into the scam by ordering a vigilance probe. The government has asked vigilance superintendent of police Jayakumar to investigate the case and submit a report.
CPM MP MB Rajesh, who sought an adjournment motion on the issue in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, alleged involvement of national leaders of the BJP in the scam. A local leader like Vinod cannot manage MCI nod for a medical college without any support from powers in New Delhi.
"The Varkala case is only the tip of the iceberg. Massive corruption is involved behind the new medical colleges that are sanctioned during the Modi regime. As many as 70 medical colleges were given approval by the Supreme Court-appointed Lodha panel without the mandatory inspections," Rajesh said.
He told Firstpost that the petrol pump and medical college scams indicate that there was a systematic arrangement in Delhi during the NDA rule to distribute the benefits of power to the partymen in different states. He said that CPM will demand a court-monitored probe in the Parliament to bust the same.
Rajesh alleged that the BJP had tried to suppress the Varkala case by returning the bribe to the applicant, who incidentally belongs to the Bharatiya Dharama Jana Sena (BDJS), a BJP ally in Kerala. The state leadership was forced to take action after the probe report found its way to the media.
"Rajashekharan had sat on the probe report for a month-and-a-half. He acted on it following the intervention of the central leaders, who apparently wanted to keep the scam confined to Kerala as it will dent the anti-corruption image of the Narendra Modi government," Rajesh said.
The BDJS, a political arm of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam that champions the interest of the numerically strong Ezhava Hindu community in Kerala, does not believe the BJP claims that they are corruption-free.
SNDP general secretary and founder patron of BDJS, Vellapally Natesan said that the state unit of the party was steeped in corruption. He told reporters at Alappuzha that the state unit of the party was filled with swindlers.
"What's happening in the Kerala unit of the BJP is a 'fight' between those who got the money and those who didn't. If this is allowed to go the party will never be able to make any ground in the state,” he added.
Natesan has sought the urgent intervention of the prime minister and BJP national president Amith Shah to intervene in the issue and cleanse the state unit if they want any seats from the state either in the Lok Sabha or the state legislature in the upcoming elections.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala views the scam as a clear case of the BJP leaders' attempt to indulge in large-scale corruption with central assistance. He said that the counterfeit currency case involving party leaders in Thrissur was part of this. He demanded a comprehensive inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to find the extent of the corruption.
Political commentator NN Pearson said that the scam coupled with the counterfeit currency case would make it difficult for BJP to make inroads into the state’s bi-polar political scene. It sought a third space by projecting the corruption in both the dominant fronts led by the Congress and the CPM.
Political observers feel that the corruption scams involving state leaders of the BJP will have a bearing in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, in which the party has targeted 12 seats from the state.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2017 08:43 AM