Hours after a senior state BJP leader’s arrest on Tuesday night from north Bengal on suspicion of involvement in a child trafficking racket operating from the region, the party on Wednesday removed the accused and her father — also a Bengal BJP leader — of their party posts, but alleged that the episode is a conspiracy by the TMC. Removed as general secretary of the BJP state women’s wing, accused Juhi Chowdhury was on Wednesday remanded to 12-day CID custody. Her father Rabindra Narayan Chowdhury was also removed from BJP state committee — both for an indefinite period.
“The TMC is misguided if it thinks the BJP will be weakened through this arrest,” BJP state secretary Sayantan Basu said. He alleged the CID is ignoring “evidence” that points to purported political links of the accused with members of the ruling party, including Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Calling it a “political conspiracy”, BJP national secretary Rahul Sinha said Juhi and her father would remain relieved from their posts until they get a judicial “clean chit”.
Juhi was named in the FIR, registered by CID at Kotwali police station in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district, on February 19. Sources said she went into hiding in an area about 10 km from the border in Nepalese territory. A CID officer with knowledge of the probe said they received information of her whereabouts on February 22, and tracked her to the India-Nepal border area. While a team had initially been sent to Delhi to find her, there was no information from the national capital. The officer did not comment on whether this was a diversionary tactic, but said they did not make public the information that Juhi had been tracked in Nepal border area in a bid to “misguide influential people” helping her.
The officer said: “She kept in touch with her father. On Monday, we were able to find her exact location in an area under Kharbari police station in Batasi (near the border in Darjeeling district). Two officers of the CID’s Special Operation Group were positioned…they posed as priests to observe her movements from a temple nearby.” On Tuesday, the officer said, it was confirmed that Juhi was at home, and she was arrested.
According to CID officials, investigation so far has revealed that Juhi had allegedly used her political identity to get funding and licences for the NGO that was found to be involved in the child trafficking case. Juhi has been booked under IPC sections 370 (5) (offence involving trafficking of more than one minor), 420 (cheating), 467, 468 (forgery) 468, 120B (criminal conspiracy), 201 (evidence tampering) and various sections of the Juvenile Justice Act. ADG (CID) Rajesh Kumar said, “She won’t be brought to Kolkata — the interrogation will continue from north Bengal. She has been interrogated (initial interrogation), and will definitely disclose information with time.”
The BJP, meanwhile, is getting ready to raise the heat on the Saradha and Rose Valley chit fund scam cases. “Neither Centre nor BJP would have any deal regarding the chit fund cases,” BJP’s Sayantan Basu said, referring to scams in which some Trinamool leaders are alleged to have been involved. The incident of naming Juhi in the trafficking case, however, has revealed some fissures in the BJP’s state unit. Last week, Roopa Ganguly, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and Bengal women’s wing president, had alleged that Dilip Ghosh had advised her to make Juhi an officebearer in the party. The remarks were made on the BJP women’s wing WhatsApp group.
Since the FIR was registered, Ghosh had remained steadfast in his support of Juhi. Union minister Babul Supriyo had last Saturday questioned why Juhi, a party officebearer, was “hiding”, and Ganguly also asked who had “advised” her to “go into hiding”. Ghosh had countered, calling it a “conspiracy by TMC government”, and that CID was working as a “party wing” to malign BJP. He also said his “word in this regard” was “final”, as he was the “top BJP official in Bengal”.
On Wednesday, Ghosh said, “Today we held a state committee meeting where it was decided that both Juhi and her father would be removed from their posts for gross indiscipline. The party’s image was tarnished after they took a person to Delhi. The party’s image will continue to get affected if actions were not taken against them. We have taken the decision not because of allegations but for gross indiscipline in the party.”
Sources said the BJP brass was displeased with Ghosh’s handling of the situation, and his public spats with leaders at the Centre.