An alleged cash-for-ticket scam is the latest controversy to hit the Bengal BJP, which is already battling allegations of corruption and sexual misconduct, levelled by one of its senior leaders.
An audio clip of an alleged WhatsApp call conversation purportedly between BJP leader Pritam Sarkar and an unknown person, in which the former was heard demanding ₹1 lakh for each candidate in the corporation election, went viral on Sunday.
During the conversation, the purported BJP leader said that to negotiate the rate he would have to convince the party’s newly appointed state president Dr Sukanta Majumdar.
Tweeting the clip, the TMC said that it was shocking that the BJP was demanding money for the candidate. “@BJP4Bengal is demanding 1 LAKH FOR EACH CANDIDATE. @DrSukantaBJP is this how you collect funds for your propaganda? SHOCKING!” the TMC tweeted.
Civic body elections in Kolkata and Howrah will take place on December 19.
The BJP claimed that the audio was “manufactured” by the TMC to malign the party’s image, adding that the person whose name figured in the controversy, was a former TMC functionary.
The party also lodged a police complaint.
“The nomination of a candidate in the BJP is never decided by any individual leader. This is a ploy by the TMC to discredit the BJP. The person allegedly involved in this was with the TMC earlier,” the BJP state president said.
Sarkar, who had joined the BJP from the TMC in the run up to the Assembly elections earlier this year, said that it was a fake audio.
The authenticity of the audio though has not been verified, it has come as a major embarrassment for the BJP as only last week, a very senior party leader and former Governor of Tripura and Meghalaya Tathagata Roy had said that the party needed to be pulled out of “money and women” racket.
“Any political party, including BJP, has two sets of people. Those who have come to give something (labour/intellect) and those who want to get something (power/money/women). It is not possible in practice to exclude the second category entirely. However the leadership must know who is which,” Roy had tweeted.
In another tweet in Bengali, the former Governor said that the party needed to be rescued from the existing “racket of money and women.”
Roy has been blaming BJP leaders Kailash Vijayvargiya, Arvind Menon, Shiv Prakash, Dilip Ghosh and others for the party’s debacle in the March-April Assembly elections.
Roy has been particularly critical about the party’s decision to fill its ranks with leaders from the TMC, a move which has been proved counterproductive as most of the turncoats lost elections, and those who have won are bee-lining to re-join their old party.
To make the matter worse for the BJP, the party lost all the four seats, including the two it had won in May, in the recent by-elections, dropping its strength in the assembly to 70 from the 77 seats it had bagged.
Earlier, five former TMC leaders, who had won elections in the BJP ticket, have made the “gharwapasi.” They include former BJP national vice-president and Krishnanagar North MLA Mukul Roy, Raiganj MLA Krishna Kalyani, Bishnupur MLA Tanmoy Ghosh, Bagda MLA Biswajit Das and Kaliaganj MLA Soumen Roy.
Even the saffron party’s original glamour boy in Bengal, former Union Minister Babul Supriyo has joined the TMC, as the BJP faces a series of desertions after its defeats in the Assembly elections.
Other prominent deserters include former minister Rajib Banerjee, ex-MLA Sabyasachi Dutt and Bengali actress Srabanti Chatterjee, who had joined the BJP ahead of elections have quit the party.
“Many dalals (middlemen) had joined the party before elections. Some of them have left, while others are still there and sabotaging the party. All of them will be shown the door,” Dilip Ghosh said, reacting to the string of desertions.
It is well known in the BJP circle that Ghosh and the BJP’s legislature party leader Suvendu Adhikari, a TMC turncoat, did not enjoy best of relations, which led to factionalism within the party.
To address the problem, the BJP appointed Majumdar as the party’s West Bengal president, replacing Dilip Ghosh in September.
The change of guard however failed to stem in-fightings within the party, which on occasions even snowballed into fisticuffs and brawls.
Last month two factions of the party’s East Burdwan district unit were involved in a brawl at an event in the presence of state BJP president Sukanta Majumdar and his predecessor Dilip Ghosh. The two groups flung chairs and exchanged blows with one another, much to the horror of the two senior state leaders.
Such blatant show of dissent has become a regular feature in the Bengal unit of the BJP, which once boasted of itself as a party with a difference.