Is BJP in Panic After Losing Anti-Corruption Tag?
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin described the misuse of investigating agencies and rampant corruption as one of several reasons for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s debacle in Karnataka after the election results in the Southern state were released on 13 May. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader congratulated people for “teaching a befitting lesson” to the BJP in Karnataka and said the “landmass of the Dravidian family stands clear of the BJP. Now let us work together to win 2024 to restore democracy and constitutional values in India”.
Stalin’s charges of corruption against the BJP resonated with the recent allegation levelled by Satyapal Malik, former governor of four states, including Jammu and Kashmir, that he was offered a Rs 300 crore bribe for clearing two files one allegedly pertaining to the prominent business house Reliance and another to a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader.
Earlier, in a recorded speech in the Delhi Assembly, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal described Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP as the “most corrupt...in 75 years of India’s Independence”. It is a charge he has regularly repeated before the press.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) spokesman and Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament, Manoj Jha, also said, “The Karnataka results have punctured the BJP’s much-vaunted claim that it was fighting against corruption while corrupt parties are uniting against it”. He said, “What has panicked the BJP more is that the people of Karnataka took it as an outfit of the most corrupt leaders extorting 40% commission in government schemes.”
Soon after the results of the Karnataka Assembly elections were out, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) swung into action carrying out raids and searches at nine establishments of RJD leaders in Patna, Ara, Delhi, Noida and Gurugram. The investigating agency raided the assets of the party Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha, Prem Gupta and the Member of the Legislative Assembly from Sandesh, Kiran Devi, among others.
Simultaneously, the CBI searched a dozen locations in Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi and Rajasthan, including the premises of Satyapal Malik’s former media advisor, Saunak Bali. The premises of a chartered accountant and private individuals based in Delhi and Rajasthan were searched too. The CBI had summoned Malik last month after his claim that he was offered bribes to clear files.
Lower courts in Bihar sentenced RJD president and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav for five to seven years in five cases related to the fodder scam, which unfolded between 2013 and 2016. Until 2017, Lalu, out on bail after completing half his term behind bars, did not have any charges against him other than those related to the so-called fodder scam.
When Lalu was Union railway minister in the first United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government between 2004-09, his political opponents complained to the CBI that he had given people jobs in lieu of land and had given two Railway hotels to private parties in violation of the rules.
The CBI could not find any evidence in these charges and closed the case in 2011.
But in July 2017—almost six years after it had closed the case—the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate raided 17 establishments of Lalu in Patna, Delhi and elsewhere in connection with the same case it had closed in 2011. It charged Lalu, his wife and ex-Bihar chief minister Rabri Devi, and his younger son Tejashwi Yadav—a minor when Lalu was railway minister—in these cases.
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JDU, broke away from the RJD and switched to the BJP when corruption charges against Tejashwi became an issue. After that, the investigating agencies went into ‘hibernation’. Now, Nitish was the chief minister of Bihar again, but in partnership with the BJP. However, soon after Nitish dumped the BJP and returned to the Grand Alliance or Mahagathbandhan in August 2022, the CBI raided 17 establishments that allegedly belonged to Lalu and his family members.
Again, on March 11 and 12, 2023, the CBI and Enforcement Directorate searched the Delhi-based government bungalow where Lalu’s daughter Misa Bharti lived and the house of Lalu’s other daughter, Hema Yadav. It questioned Tejashwi’s wife, Rajshree Yadav, Misa and Hema. Tejashwi and Misa did not figure in the initial charge sheet. But the CBI is said to be working to file a supplementary charge sheet in the case.
On 16 May, the CBI raided the establishments of Prem Gupta and Kiran Yadav, members of Lalu’s party who are believed to be close to the Yadav family. Mahagathbandhan leaders suspect investigating agencies might implicate most of Lalu’s family members, relatives and several party leaders in the cases and that it is being done at the BJP’s behest.
Nitish Kumar, otherwise reticent in reacting to investigating agencies’ actions, has repeatedly said they were “raiding Lalu’s establishments because the RJD and JDU had joined hands”.
Similarly, investigating agencies have turned the heat on Satyapal Malik after the former Jammu and Kashmir governor’s interview with The Wire in which he heaped charges of corruption and misuse of government properties against BJP leaders. He said the refusal to provide planes of the Union Home Ministry is responsible for the huge casualty of Central Reserve Police Force soldiers in the terrorist attack in Pulwama, Kashmir, in 2019.
Taint of Corruption and Scams:
The BJP rode the wave of resentment spared by the Anna Hazare movement against corruption in 2013-14 to come to power in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Modi, whom the BJP projected as its prime ministerial face, made scams the biggest issue against the then Manmohan Singh government. He promised a “scam and corruption-free” government, famously saying, “Na Khaunga, Na Khaney Dunga—I won’t be corrupt, nor let others eat into public funds”.
However, nine years down the line, the BJP faces a string of charges of corruption and scams. Voters in Karnataka said corruption was one of the major charges against the BJP government. AAP spokesperson Sanjay Singh has repeatedly said in his speeches in the Rajya Sabha that there was a “scam” in the Rafale deal and alleged that in the seizure of drugs worth Rs 20,000 crore from the Mundra Port in Gujarat, the Adani group must be probed for involvement. He has also severely criticised the government’s reluctance to have the “PM Cares” fund properly accounted for and audited transparently. Almost all Opposition parties are demanding a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee in the Hindenburg research report against the Adani group, which the Modi government has not conceded.
But try as it might, the BJP can no longer claim to have the image of a “corruption and scam-free” party. The numerous accusations of corruption it faces mean the BJP has lost this image. And it cannot argue that losing a key electoral plank will not impact it in the crucial Lok Sabha election next year.
The author is a senior journalist, media educator, and independent researcher in social anthropology. The views are personal.
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