Three Congress MLAs from Jharkhand found with cash worth more than 48 lakh in West Bengal’s Howrah district were arrested after police spent the night interrogating them. The Congress suspended the leaders, alleging that the incident had exposed the BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ to usurp power in Jharkhand. A Howrah district court has sent the three MLAs on 10-day police remand.
The case has also been transferred to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
On Sunday, five people, including the driver of the vehicle and the MLAs were arrested. Police sources said the accused were not able to justify possession of such a big amount of cash. Also, the vehicle seized by the police belonged to one of the three Congress legislators who were detained on Saturday evening along with the other two party MLAs, and cash worth over Rs 48 lakh was seized from them.
According to sources, the MLAs told police they had come with the money to Kolkata’s Barabazar to gift it to tribal people. Meanwhile, the MLAs’ advocates alleged that they were unable to visit their clients. Along with police, income tax, CID officials also questioned the group.
The three Congress MLAs — Irfan Ansari from Jamtara Assembly constituency, Rajesh Kacchap from Khijri (Scheduled Tribe) Assembly constituency and Naman Bixal Kongari from Kolebira (Scheduled Tribe) Assembly constituency — have told the police that the cash was meant for purchasing sarees from the renowned wholesale market at Burrabazar in central Kolkata.
Later, Insari’s brother told media that the MLA had come to buy sarees and the whole thing had been blown out of proportion. “Will the government be toppled in 45 lakh? He works for the poor, which is why this is a conspiracy of the opposition. We are here from 2 AM in the night, but nobody is talking to us,” said his brother.
Howrah Rural Police sources said that all the three Congress MLAs claimed that they represent tribal-dominated constituencies in Jharkhand, especially Khijri and Kolebira.
“They (Congress MLAs) informed us that they wanted to purchase sarees in large quantities from Burrabazar wholesale market for the purpose of distribution in their respective constituencies on the occasion of the forthcoming World Tribal Day on August 9, 2022,” said an official of the Howrah Rural Police.
The three MLAs also claimed that they also wanted to use the opportunity of coming to West Bengal to make a pleasure trip to the sea-side resort village of Mandarmani in West Bengal’s east Midnapore district.
However, the interrogating police officers are not satisfied with the explanations given by the three MLAs since they were unable to produce any documents to establish the source of the money seized from the vehicle.
Reacting to the arrest of the three Congress legislators late Saturday evening, the West Bengal Congress President and Lok Sabha MP, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said that if the three party MLAs from Jharkhand are proved to be involved in any illegal activities, then they must be punished and the Congress leadership will not shield them.
However, the BJP has denied the claims, levelling corruption allegations against the Grand Old Party instead.
‘Operation Lotus Exposed’
The Congress on Saturday alleged that the BJP’s “Operation Lotus” in Jharkhand was exposed after the incident. The Congress has been accusing the BJP of trying to topple its coalition government in Jharkhand by poaching its MLAs.
“The BJP’s ‘Operation Lotus’ in Jharkhand stands exposed tonight in Howrah. The game plan of ‘Hum Do’ in Delhi is to do in Jharkhand what they did in Maharashtra by installing E-D duo,” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on Twitter.
Acting on a tip-off, the SUV in which Congress MLAs Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari were travelling was intercepted on National Highway-16 at Ranihati in Panchla police station area.
“We had specific inputs that a huge amount of money was being transported in a black car. We started checking the vehicles and intercepted this SUV in which three Jharkhand MLAs were travelling. A huge amount of cash was found in the vehicle,” Howrah Superintendent of Police (Rural) Swati Bhangalia said.
The Jharkhand Congress claimed the huge amount of cash was part of a conspiracy by the BJP to topple the Hemant Soren government, of which it is a part along with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal.
With inputs from IANS, PTI