How Guwahati became epicentre for political tremors in Jharkhand

If it's BJP behind the 'defection' of three Jharkhand MLAs, it's Guwahati, in Himanta Biswa Sarma-ruled Assam, that's the hub of the activity; the events are highly reminiscent of the recent coup in Maharashtra

Himanta Biswa Sarma
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma

Not three, but 13 Jharkhand legislators were approached to topple the government in the tribal state, the blueprint of which was allegedly being prepared in BJP-ruled Assam, the epicentre of recent regime change in Maharashtra.

The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the West Bengal Police got the wind of the larger conspiracy while probing the cash recovered from three Jharkhand Congress legislators in West Bengal’s Howrah district on Saturday evening, sources privy to the investigation said.

The three arrested MLAs are Irfan Ansari from Jamtara assembly constituency, Rajesh Kacchap from Khijri and Naman Bixal Kongari from Kolebira—both Scheduled Tribe reserved constituencies. Along with them police also took into custody two others, including a youth Congress leader.

The three were arrested after police recovered little over Rs 49 lakh in cash from the boot of a SUV car belonging to Ansari. They were on their way to Jharkhand from Kolkata.

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Himanta in the picture

Just a few hours before their arrest, the trio had landed in Kolkata from Guwahati in a 2pm flight, CID sources said. They went to Guwahati on Friday, the CID sources said, adding there they first met a close aide of Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Later the trio had an in-person meeting with Sarma, who had allegedly played a key role in dislodging the Shiv Sena-led Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra last month.

The money paid through a businessman in Kolkata was part of the deal struck in Guwahati to unseat Hemant Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM)- Congress government, the sources said.

Also read: Assam CM, central ministers luring Jharkhand MLAs with money, alleges Congress

“After reaching Kolkata on Saturday afternoon, the team from Jharkhand went to a hotel on Sudder Street. In the meantime, a youth Congress leader from Jharkhand, Prdip Kumar, went out to get the money from a central-Kolkata businessman. After Kumar returned with money, the team left the hotel where they had spent about 40 minutes,” the sources added.

The police are now looking for the businessman.

Coup in the making?

From questioning the legislators, the CDI also came to know that 13 MLAs, including a few from the JMMs, are being wooed to pull down the Jharkhand government through money power.

The two of the three Congress MLAs had also flown to Guwahati earlier on July 20. During the visit, Ansari was reportedly given the responsibility to win over the legislators.

In the 81-member Jharkhand assembly, the JMM has 30 MLAs and the Congress has 18. One each MLA of the RJD, NCP and the CPI (ML) are also part of the ruling alliance. To engineer a coup, the BJP which has 26 MLAs, will need the support of at least 15 more legislators.

The arrested leaders were suspended from the Congress on Sunday amidst talks about the conspiracy to destabilise the alliance government.

Shortly after the police took the leaders into custody, another Congress legislator from Jharkhand’s Bermo, Kumar Jaimangal lodged a written police complaint alleging that three arrested MLAs had offered “gratification” to him.

“…..They (were) calling me to Kolkata and offering me money…. They are promising Rs 10 crore per MLA,” claimed Jaimangal also known as Anup Singh.

Also read: ED raids 18 locations linked to Jharkhand CM’s aide in toll plaza tenders case

Jaimangal, in his complaint lodged with Ranchi’s Argora police station, further alleged that he was promised a meeting with Sarma for an assurance of “a ministerial berth apart from the money.”

“Irfan Ansari told me that he was already promised the health ministry in the new government,” the Bermo MLA informed the police. “He assured me Shri Sarma is doing it with the blessings of top shots of the BJP political party sitting in Delhi.”

Denying any attempt by him to bring down the Jharkhand government, Sarma told newspersons in Guwahati that even top leaders of the Congress were in touch with him.

“We don’t talk about politics but being in a party for over 22 years, we keep in touch. I don’t know why an FIR was filed on this,” Sarma was quoted as saying by news agency ANI.

‘PIL’ lawyer arrested

Meanwhile, the Kolkata Police on Sunday also arrested a high-profile lawyer from Jharkhand, who came to prominence for filing about 100 PILs, including two against Soren.

The lawyer Rajeev Kumar was arrested from a mall on charges of blackmailing a Kolkata-based businessman from whom he had allegedly demanded ₹10 crore to withdraw a PIL, police officials said.

Also read: Himanta Sarma’s ‘slip of tongue’ raises political storm in Assam

The police seized Rs 50 lakh from his possession.

Though police are yet to find any link between the two money hauls, sources said investigators would try to find out whether the PILs filed against Soren were part of the conspiracy to destabilize his government.

The PILs against Soren were over allegations of irregularities in allotting mining leases and money laundering. Kumar’s son, Abhit Kumar, who was also with his father when the police nabbed him, said his father was framed.

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