First, it was the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Now, it is the “prasadam” elsewhere.
The BJP that has lived off motifs associated with organised Hinduism is running into a fresh accusation of biting that holy hand that had been feeding the party.
A sum of Rs 25 lakh allegedly disguised as temple prasadam and delivered in a cloth bag with “a banana peeking out of it” is the latest poll payoffs charge against Kerala BJP president K. Surendran, with an RSS leader’s name too thrown in.
Surendran already faces investigation in two other Assembly election-related bribery cases, while the state BJP has also been dragged into a money-laundering case suspected to be linked to the April 6 polls.
The new controversy comes amid allegations that at least one person related to a BJP leader had made a killing by buying and selling land within a few months to the trust entrusted with the task of building the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
In Kerala, Praseetha Azhikode, treasurer of the aggrieved BJP ally Janadhipathya Rashtriya Party, told a TV channel on Wednesday that Wayanad district BJP general secretary Prashanth Malavayal had on March 26 delivered Rs 25 lakh to the now suspended JRP chief C.K. Janu. Janu had weeks earlier dumped the Left and joined the NDA.
An audiotape of an alleged phone conversation between Praseetha and Surendran, leaked on Tuesday night, had earlier shown the male voice saying he had “arranged… to give 25 for your party’s needs”. The male voice suggested RSS functionary and state BJP organising secretary M. Ganesh would organise the delivery.
Praseetha has said the tape and the conversation are genuine but Surendran has denied the bribery allegation while remaining silent whether the voice on the tape was his. Ganesh forms a triumvirate in the state BJP along with Surendran and junior foreign minister V. Muraleedharan.
Praseetha said the money was paid at a homestay in Wayanad where she, Janu and a few other JRP leaders had put up.
“He (Malavayal) came to our room on seeing media people in Janu’s room, which was directly opposite. He had a cloth bag with a banana peeking out of it,” Praseetha told the Mathrubhumi TV channel.
“When I asked him, he said it was from a puja conducted for the candidate (Janu, who was the NDA nominee from Sultan Bathery, Wayanad).”
Praseetha said Malavayal had refused to give the banana to a JRP leader who had asked for it, saying it was to be handed over to Janu since the ritual had been conducted in her name.
“Janu came into our room within five minutes. He (Malavayal) spoke to her for two minutes, handed over the bag and left. Janu took it and gave it to Vineetha (her aide) who then took the bag to her (Janu’s) room,” Praseetha said.
Surendran dismissed the allegation. “What disclosure are you talking about? Don’t you have any other news to give? It’s as if something adhbhudham (strange) has happened,” he told reporters.
“What’s going on is false propaganda. The police are (anyway) investigating,” he added, alluding to the two other cases against him.
An audiotape of another alleged phone conversation between Praseetha and Surendran had earlier been leaked on June 2, in which the male voice agreed to pay Janu Rs 10 lakh to join the NDA.
Praseetha had acknowledged the veracity of that tape too and said the money had been paid in the first week of March at a Thiruvananthapuram hotel during a visit to the city by Union home minister Amit Shah. Surendran has said that tape was edited.
An FIR was lodged on the Rs 10-lakh bribery charge and the JRP suspended Janu. Another FIR accuses Surendran of paying Rs 2.5 lakh to his Bahujan Samaj Parity rival K. Sundara to withdraw his nomination papers from Manjeshwar, Kasaragod.
In the audio clip leaked on Tuesday night, the male voice asks why Janu hadn’t returned Ganesh’s call.
“Yes, I had arranged for it yesterday. Ganeshji may have called after figuring out how and where it should be delivered. You got it? I have told (him) to give 25 (lakh) for your party’s needs,” it says.
“The local unit will decide everything else. I have told them to give 25. Please tell C.K. Janu to return the call.”
The female voice replies she doesn’t know whether Janu has spoken to Ganesh. The male voice asks whether Janu doesn’t know who Ganesh is.
“When Ganeshji called she said she would call back. Didn’t she know who Ganeshji is? Not only that, I cannot handle such things,” the man says, apparently alluding to the purported money handover.
In her TV interview, Praseetha said the Ganesh referred to was indeed the state BJP organising secretary.
“He (a reference to Surendran) is clearly saying (in the audio clip) that it is organising secretary Ganesh. He is making it clear that Janu perhaps didn’t know Ganesh,” Praseetha said.
“Ganesh called C.K. Janu but (she) perhaps didn’t answer the call, being busy with election work. Otherwise, she didn’t know Ganesh’s number. That’s why Surendran called me to ask Janu to answer calls since the 25 (lakh) for the party was ready.”
Several BJP leaders have been questioned in a money-laundering case registered in Kodakara, Thrissur, after a probe into a highway robbery led the police to believe the BJP-RSS was ferrying Rs 3.5 crore in cash three days before the election.