In politics, where austerity is valued greatly, affluence can be a liability. The BJP in Kerala is now realising the value of this dictum, following a series of exposes. It is no secret that the party’s coffers were overflowing with cash when it took part in the recent elections in Kerala. No party could reach anywhere near the BJP when it came to spending. That its chief K Surendran contested from Konni in the south and Mancheswaram in the north with a helicopter at his disposal was a reflection of its money power. He even talked about forming a government if the BJP secured at least 35 seats in a House of 140. What he hinted at was his wherewithal to buy parties and MLAs to cobble together a government.
In a state where modesty is considered a byword for honesty, the flagrant misuse of wealth did not go down well with the electorate, who recalled the spartan life the RSS leaders led in the past. Small wonder that the BJP’s flamboyant style of campaigning put off the voters even in the party’s strongholds. And when the results came, it could not retain even the sole seat it had in the previous House, not to forget the drop in the vote share. The developments concerning the party in the post-election period are far more devastating than on the day of counting. Just three days before polling, a car coming from Karnataka was intercepted in Thrissur district and cash worth Rs 3.4 crore was allegedly taken away.
The incident would not have hit the headlines in the media but for a BJP worker filing a police complaint about the robbery of Rs 25 lakh. The police have already unearthed more than Rs 1 crore. There is evidence that the incident was only a tip of the iceberg. The party is believed to have spent anything from Rs 30 crore to Rs 400 crore on the campaign in Kerala. There are also charges that all the BJP candidates were not treated equitably and that a lot of money went into the pockets of the leaders. All this would have remained just political speculation but for a telephone conversation in which Surendran is heard saying that Rs 10 lakh in cash would be delivered at tribal leader CK Janu’s hotel room at Thiruvananthapuram on the day Home Minister Amit Shah was in the city.
As if all this were not enough, there comes the report that the BJP paid Rs 2.50 lakh in cash to the BSP candidate to withdraw from the contest at Mancheswaram. It is worth recalling that the BJP chief had claimed at a press conference that the party had not done any cash transaction and all the payments made were through digital means. His own phone conversation, not yet denied, gives the lie to such claims. In all the three incidents, police investigations are ongoing and one can only hope that they would reach their logical conclusion and bring the culprits to book.
Reports suggest that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is upset over the goings-on in the Kerala BJP. Can he absolve himself of the responsibilities? In December 2016, when he announced the banning of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination currency notes, many accepted his initiative despite the hardship it caused to the people in the belief that it would cleanse the monetary system and rid it of unaccounted money. To give him credit, the NDA government has been promoting digital, instead of cash, transactions. As a result, instant and electronic payments in India stood at nearly 40 per cent of all transactions in 2020. The percentage is expected to grow to 71 by 2025. This is certainly commendable and will do the Prime Minister proud.
However, the incidents in Kerala and elsewhere show that the party had access to enormous sums of unaccounted money. There are, in fact, allegations of misuse of the BJP’s money power for winning elections and ‘buying’ MLAs. Since it is the ruling party, it can easily raise resources. Needless to say, the main beneficiary of the electoral bonds is the BJP. Such transactions are through the banking system. Then, how does it have so much cash to distribute in a cloak-and-dagger manner? If the Prime Minister really wants to rid the country of black money, he must make a beginning by ridding the BJP of access to such ill-gotten wealth. Will he bite the bullet?