The arrest of three Jharkhand legislators in West Bengal after being caught with a huge stash of cash in their vehicle has thrown up many questions. The three Congress MLAs, Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari, have been suspended from the party but speculation of a deep-rooted conspiracy to topple the state government has been doing the rounds. Another Congress legislator, Kumar Jaimangal, has lodged an FIR accusing the trio of offering him a sum of Rs 10 crore at the behest of Assam Chief Minister Hemanta Biswa Sarma as well as a ministerial portfolio in a new government. However, there is no explanation as to why he waited till the three MLAs were nabbed with cash in their vehicle to file the police complaint. Whatever the truth of the allegations, horse trading and government toppling bids have become everyday occurrences. The BJP’s desire to gain power in states that it has lost is no secret. The list of its successes is long – Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and now Maharashtra, where it managed to wean away a big section of the Shiv Sena to topple the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government. The sizeable money power it commands as well as its indirect control over government machinery has put the party in a distinctly advantageous position. Notwithstanding the existence of the anti-defection law, scenes of legislators of all political parties being bundled off to other states and being kept confined in expensive resorts to prevent their defection are now common, and no questions are answered on who foots the bill for these prolonged luxury hotel stays.
Now instability is threatening the Jharkhand government too. With the suspension of three MLAs, the ruling coalition in the state is on a sticky wicket as it is just a shade above the majority mark required to stay in power. There is speculation that several other Congress MLAs are also in touch with the BJP. The three arrested legislators are suspected to have gone against the party whip and voted for Droupadi Murmu in the recent presidential election but the Congress, in a familiar display of tardiness, did not react promptly to nip the rebellion in the bud. As a result it is in danger of losing power in another state where it is ruling as a coalition partner. Jharkhand CM and JMM leader Hemant Soren himself is in legal trouble with the Election Commission hearing a petition seeking his disqualification for alleged misuse of his office to allocate a stone quarrying lease on government land to himself in 2021. The Enforcement Directorate recently also arrested his aide Pankaj Mishra in connection with the case. Jharkhand has a troubled history with bribery and corruption, dating back to 1993 when the JMM bailed out the Narasimha Rao government during a no-confidence motion in Parliament — allegedly in exchange for huge sums of money. The court case involving veteran JMM leader Shibu Soren and Simon Marandi among others stretched on for years. Former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda was also found guilty of illegally ensuring the allocation of a coal block in the state to a Kolkata firm.
As the BJP juggernaut rolls on with its impressive electoral wins, the propensity of legislators to fall prey to inducements of money and power leaves most non-BJP governments on thin ice. The threat of enforcement agencies targeting opposition politicians is also very real and can sway all but the most stout-hearted. This twin-pronged attack is often too hard to resist. There is no doubt that some steps need to be taken to cleanse Indian politics of the lure of cash and accompanying benefits. The call for a corruption-free India will remain a mere platitude if strict action is not taken against such machinations. It is time for parliamentarians and the government to put their heads together and frame strong legislation to curb such practices. The amount of cash floating around in the country is another mystery that remains to be solved. The scourge of black money which was supposed to have been curbed by the demonetisation exercise still looms large. Before the Jharkhand MLAs were busted with their stash of cash, the discovery of crores of rupees at former Bengal minister Partha Chatterjee’s aide Arpita Mukherjee’s houses in connection with the SSC scam raises grave questions on the effectiveness of government curbs on illegal wealth. Cash was also seized from Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut’s house by the ED. While honest taxpayers are rarely given their due and are, in fact, often harassed by tax authorities, purveyors of unaccounted money and ill-gotten wealth roam around scot free. It is time for a distinct overhaul of the system beginning with more accountability for political parties and lawmakers.