Hawala Heist: BJP Kerala Unravels, Embarrasses National Leaders
Over Rs 3.5 crore of hawala money that was being transported from Karnataka to Kerala, was looted on 3 April.
When the national leadership of BJP appointed 49-year-old K Surendran as president of the party's Kerala unit in February 2020, he was the most popular second-rung leader of the saffron spectrum. An aggressive leader from Ulliyeri in North Kerala's Kozhikode district, he also had the image of an anti-corruption crusader.
But now, thanks to Surendran, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Kerala state unit is faced with an unprecedented image crisis. Apart from bribery charges levelled against him, a multi-crore hawala deal, purportedly mooted under Surendran’s watch is at the heart of the political storm.
Charges Against Surendran
Surendran is accused of bribing a political opponent to withdraw the nomination he fielded in Manjeshwar Legislative Assembly constituency. He is also accused of having bribed tribal leader CK Janu to coax her into joining the BJP.
However, what makes the situation much more complicated for the BJP Kerala unit is a money heist that allegedly took place on 3 April at Kodakara, Thrissur, three days before Assembly election was held in the state.
Over Rs 3.5 crore of hawala money that was being transported from Karnataka to south Kerala, was looted on a state highway.
The issue came to light when BJP leader Dharmarajan approached Kerala police with a fake complaint that said that he was looted of Rs 25 lakh, which he had set aside for a land transaction. In the investigation, the police found that the fund had alleged hawala roots and that more than what was claimed was looted.
The Shocking Heist
According to police, a person identified as Shamjeer Shamsudeen was transporting the money in a vehicle bound for Kochi. As soon as the vehicle reached the flyover at Kodakara in Thrissur, nine people who came in two vehicles intercepted Shamsudeen’s car, assaulted him, and looted the money.
On being questioned, Shamsudeen revealed that Dharmarajan handed over the amount to him. So far, the police have arrested 20 people in connection with the case. The investigators have also recovered Rs 1.12 crore and 347 grams of gold ornaments, allegedly purchased using the black money.
According to investigating officials, it was Dharmarajan who disclosed that the money was meant for the BJP. He also disclosed that a prominent BJP state leader had booked a prominent hotel in Thrissur for him. On interrogation, BJP's Thrissur district secretary K K Aneesh Kumar admitted that the party had booked the room.
Dharmarajan told the police that the seized money was to be handed over to the party’s Alappuzha district treasurer K G Kartha.
He also revealed that the BJP state organisation secretary M Ganeshan and the party's state office secretary G Gireesh were aware of the transaction. The police also found that one of the prime suspects, Deepak, had visited the BJP office in Thrissur after the money was looted. On its part, the BJP has admitted that Deepak was indeed summoned to the party office. The police are yet to arrest any of the BJP leaders.
Why Has the Crisis Cost the BJP Dearly?
"In the last Assembly election, BJP claimed that it would fetch at least 35 seats. But the party drew a blank and failed to retain Nemom, the single-seat it had won in 2016. Now, the Kodakara money heist case and the Manjeshwar bribery charges have turned into a worst crisis for the party, which is fast losing confidence of the public in Kerala," said veteran political observer B R P Bhaskar.
Surendran, the answer to BJP’s search for a protagonist in Kerala, has now become a liability for the party as it grapples to explain its pre-election financial transactions.
The party is also left to face several uncomfortable questions, the prime most being: Why did the party allow illegal transportation of a huge sum of money from Karnataka? “I seriously believe the money was aimed at purchasing votes for Surendran in southern Konni Assembly constituency, where he had fought elections, apart from Manjeshwar," alleged Shafi Parambil, MLA and state president of Indian Youth Congress.
The case has already caused irreparable damage to the state unit of the BJP as many of its leaders were already questioned by the police, their houses were raided, and significant amounts of money were recovered.
To top it all, the party is now in the throes of faction feuds.
Kerala BJP Unravels
Initially, the party's state leadership had tried to distance itself from the controversy claiming that the looted money was only meant to cover election-related expenses. More recently, however, BJP workers in Thrissur squabbled over the Kodakara hawala money case in a whatsapp group named 'Vyasa Nagar'. There, a section of BJP workers alleged that the BJP district treasurer had links to the robbery, which some party factions denied instantly.
The faction feud took an ugly turn on 31 May when BJP workers argued over the heist and clashed in front of a vaccination centre in Vadanapally of Thrissur district. One of the BJP local leaders was stabbed during the clash.
Meanwhile, BJP's OBC Morcha Vice-President Rishi Palpu was expelled from the party for criticising the party's Thrissur leadership over the hawala transaction on social media. With things falling apart, BJP National President JP Nadda had to step in and depute three retired bureaucrats – CV Ananda Bose, E Sreedharan, and Jacob Thomas – to investigate the matter. The bureaucrats are expected to submit their report to the BJP’s central leadership.
“Never before in the history of the BJP, a state unit of the party has gone through such humiliation. The party’s rank and file feel let down by its leadership. The hawala issue is something hard to stomach for the central leadership,” revealed a senior BJP functionary on the condition of anonymity.
According to sources, a section of party leaders who attended a state-level core committee meeting of the BJP recently accused others of embracing “denial mode”. "We are turning into a laughing stock for the whole country," lamented a leader at the meet, sources confirmed.
"The intensifying groupism is behind the party's humiliating defeat in the Assembly election. It is also the reason for the recent controversies that have dented the party's image and credibility," said a senior BJP leader.
Faction Feud Led to Election Defeat?
"The highway robbery case would not have come out had the party been united. It got exposed only because of factionalism," the senior BJP leader said.
The ‘robbery’ got reported only because the rival faction ‘realised’ that the funds did not reach them or their candidates.
"Now, it has become a major embarrassment for the BJP and the RSS because RSS leaders' names are also dragged into it," the leader pointed out.
According to party insiders, Surendran, will have to pay a heavy price for the decay of the party.
"I am facing political vendetta of both LDF and UDF. In connection with the Sabarimala agitation, I am now facing around 300 criminal cases. They failed to stop me even after that. I will carry forward my duties ignoring all these politically motivated allegations," said Surendran, when contacted.
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