The BJP sought to turn the tables on the Opposition, which has been leading calls in Parliament for the resignation of its CMs in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, by releasing a CD of a “sting operation” that purpotedly shows the secretary of the Congress CM in Uttarakhand negotiating with middlemen allegedly linked to private liquor distributors.
As per the strategy prepared by the BJP’s top leadership to counter the Congress, Union Minister Nirmala Sitharaman led the charge Wednesday against Harish Rawat and his secretary Mohammad Shahid, a Gujarat-cadre IAS officer, and demanded the CM’s “immediate resignation” for “making money” by altering the state’s liquor policy to favour private distributors.
In response, Rawat dismissed the allegations as “baseless” but also promised action against Shahid if what was shown in the CD was proved to be true.
The CD does not feature Rawat, but shows a person whom Sitharaman claimed was Shahid talking to alleged liquor dealers about the state’s excise policy.
“Instead of focusing on providing relief to Uttarakhand (after the floods in 2013) for which he was sent to replace Vijay Bahuguna, Rawat is focusing on making money by tweaking the liquor policy. We demand that the Congress party remove him instantly. He must resign,” Sitharaman said.
Raising the stakes, Sitharaman also accused all Congress CMs of being “merchants of loot” and said that her party wanted to know whether Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi obtained “commission” from them.
“They (Congress CMs) have been given a license to loot. BJP wants to know how much commission from this loot is given to Sonia and Rahul Gandhi. The loot by these chief ministers has grown under their patronage,” she said.
Uttarakhand CM’s Rawat’s Private Secretary Shahid, who is on deputation in Uttarakhand, is also Secretary of the state’s Excise Department.
In the video, which was also released by the BJP’s state unit in Uttarakhand, Shahid — he is also Secretary of the state’s Excise Department — is allegedly shown negotiating with a middlemen for making changes in policy to benefit private liquor distributors.
Earlier, at the BJP Parliamentary party meeting in Delhi, its first in this session, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley explained the party’s stance to its MPs.
He dismissed the Congress’ argument that it was the previous UPA government that had taken action against Lalit Modi. Instead, he claimed, the UPA had taken the “teeth out of” the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) which had provisions for stringent action against violations, and brought in FEMA with less serious clauses.
Swaraj, who has expressed her readiness to make a statement on the allegations against her, also provided her version of the controversy to the MPs, reiterating that she has helped Lalit Modi only on humanitarian grounds.
“Since the MP CM was not present, Swaraj, being an MP from Madhya Pradesh, spoke on the Vyapam scam also. She maintained that the BJP CM has not done anything wrong and it was he who started taking action on the issue,” said a BJP MP.
Although PM Narendra Modi was present, he did not speak much, sources said.
“Books have been distributed. There is enough masala in them. Dhyan se padiye (read it carefully),” sources quoted PM Modi as saying.
Sources said Modi was referring to two booklets — ‘Vyapam – Myths’ and ‘Reality and Scams in the Congress-ruled states’. Modi also urged the MPs to be present in the house ready with facts as ammunition, they added.
One of the booklets contain a list of scams and the allegations against the chief ministers of Kerala, Assam, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh as well as a note on the law and order issues in West Bengal, sources said.
They added that the BJP leadership is moving ahead with conviction to back its leaders in controversies. “The party understood very clearly, after going through the documents given by the leaders, that we have nothing to worry. No one has done any indefensible thing. So let’s face it and tell the truth,” said a minister who is part of the BJP’s strategy preparation.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Uttarakhand unit president Tirath Singh Rawat told The Indian Express that party will stage protests against the state government across the state on Thursday to press for the CM’s resignation.
The BJP leader claimed that when Uttarakhand was formed, the then BJP government had ensured through its excise policy that the wholesale distribution of foreign liquor would be done through two government agencies, Garwhal Mandal Vikas Nigam and Agriculture Marketing Council.
“But, about a month back, the state government changed this policy under the influence of a syndicate and gave distribution work to private firms,” he alleged.