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Three Jharkhand Congress MLAs held, cash found in car: West Bengal police

Acting on a tip-off, the vehicle in which MLAs Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari were travelling was intercepted on NH-16 at Ranihati in Panchla police station area.

congress mla jharkhandSecurity personnel recover illegal money during a search operation in a vehicle belonging to a Congress MLA, in Ranchi. (PTI)

Three Congress MLAs from Jharkhand were detained in West Bengal’s Howrah district on Saturday evening after a huge amount of cash was found in their vehicle, police said. Calling it part of the “BJP’s Operation Lotus”, the Congress alleged a bid to topple its alliance government in Jharkhand.

Superintendent of Police, Howrah (Rural), Swati Bhangalia, said the SUV, with a nameplate saying “MLA Jamtara Jharkhand”, was intercepted on NH-16, in Ranihati area of Howrah district, following a tip-off.

“We have nabbed three Congress MLAs from Jharkhand, namely Irfan Ansari, MLA from Jamtara; Rajesh Kachhap, MLA from Khijri; and Naman Bixal, MLA from Kolebira; with huge amounts of cash. We will only be able to count the cash when we get the counting machines,” said Bhangalia.

“We had specific inputs that a huge amount of money was being transported in a car. We started checking the vehicles, and intercepted this car in which the three MLAs were travelling. The MLAs are being questioned about the source of the money and where it was being taken,” she said.

Sources said the car was heading towards the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Dum Dum when it was intercepted. Besides the MLAs, there were two other persons in the SUV, police said.

In Delhi, while some Congress leaders linked the recovery of cash to cross-voting in the recent presidential elections, the party called it “Operation Lotus”, a euphemism for alleged poaching of MLAs by the BJP.

“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,” Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretary in charge of communication, tweeted.

The Congress has been jittery about Jharkhand, where it is part of the alliance government with JMM, ever since the fall of the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra.

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Amid speculation of a possible rift in the Congress, which has 18 MLAs in the state, a senior Congress leader in Jharkhand said: “Even before they were detained, we had received information about the whereabouts of the three MLAs in Howrah district. This is possibly part of ‘Operation Lotus’ and they (the MLAs) were supposedly handled from Guwahati.”

In a statement, Congress president in Jharkhand, Rajesh Thakur, said: “It has now become evident that the BJP, for a long time, is trying to topple the governments in non-BJP states… The people elect a party, but the government is being formed by another party. The country needs to reflect on this… None of the culprits will be spared… Assam is the centre from where the entire conspiracy is happening. It seems they are preparing to topple the government during the monsoon session.”

In July last year, Bixal, one of the three MLAs detained, had alleged that he had been offered Rs 1 crore by “some people” to topple the government. Subsequently, an FIR was also filed in this connection.

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A top source in the state Congress said that “MLA Rajesh Kachhap was visibly unhappy with some ministers in the state… He had said that things are under control”.

The ruling JMM spokesperson Supriyo Bhattacharya told PTI, “The party will be able to talk about its stand on the issue tomorrow.” Chief Minister Hemant Soren is facing pressure over a mining lease, the arrest of his aide Pankaj Mishra, and ED searches across the state in connection with the mining case.

The BJP’s Jharkhand president, Deepak Prakash, told PTI that the Congress MLAs should explain the source of the cash.

Jharkhand’s Independent MLA Saryu Roy asked the Congress to clarify whether the MLAs were returning to Jharkhand with cash or travelling to some other state. “Where is the source of money — Assam, Bengal or Jharkhand?” he asked.

With the recovery coming amid the ongoing probe in the West Bengal school school jobs’ case, in which the ED has seized about Rs 50 crore cash from properties linked to former TMC minister Partha Chatterjee’s aide Arpita Mukherjee, the development triggered a political war of words in Bengal.

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“Amidst murmurs of horse-trading and the possible toppling of the Jharkhand government, 3 @INCJharkhand (Congress MLAs from Jharkhand) were found carrying huge sums of cash to Bengal. What is the source of this money? Will any central agency take suo motu cognizance? Or do the rules apply to a select few,” the TMC tweeted from its official handle.

“ED, are you taking a note or the matter is not grievous enough? Machines were brought in to count a huge amount of cash found in a vehicle in which 3 Jharkhand MLAs were travelling. We demand a thorough investigation into the matter,” Bengal minister Shashi Panja tweeted.

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Countering, BJP spokesperson Samik Bhattacharya said, “There is no need to attach much importance to what the TMC is saying. They have lost their moral right to speak on an issue like this after the recent recovery of cash in connection to the SSC recruitment scam. We feel that the TMC and Congress are making preparations to forge an alliance against the BJP with the help of this large amount of money.”

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Bengal Congress leader Koustab Bagchi said: “If the cash cannot be accounted for, then the MLAs must be brought to justice. The Congress will not have any objection to that. If they cannot substantiate the cash, then the party will not take any responsibility of this. The party will not support the MLAs if they are guilty”.

First published on: 30-07-2022 at 09:52:08 pm
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