JMM Payoffs: Defection Scandal

A Jharkhand MP claims he and three others received money to bail out the Rao Government in a 1993 no-trust motion as allegations are made that hawala funds were used to buy four crucial votes

Shibu Soren

 N.K. SINGH

MYSTERIOUS MONEY

  • Four JMM MPs who opposed a notrust motion on July 28, 1993, deposited more than Rs.1.60 crore on August 1 and 2 in the same bank in Delhi.
  • The petition alleges that on August 1, 1993, Rs.30 lakh was deposited in Suraj Mandal‘s account.
  • Shailendra Mahato says that three days after they voted for the Government, Mandal gave him Rs.40 lakh, saying that the money came from Rao.
  • On August 1, 1993, Rs.30 lakh was deposited in the account of JMM MP Shibu Soren, his wife, and Hemant Kumar and Basant Kumar. On the same day, Rs.30 lakh was deposited in the name of the four JMM MPs and Rs.12 lakh in the name of Simon Marandi and his wife. Next day, Rs.21 lakh more was deposited in their account.

If it were the handiwork of the Congress(I) ministers forced to resign over the hawala scandal, they had scored a direct hit. Last fortnight, opposition parties, armed with information many believe was leaked by P.V. Narasimha Rao’s sidelined lieutenants, accused Rao of bribing MPs to vote in favour of the Government, thus enabling the Congress(I), which did not then command a majority, to overcome a no-confidence motion in July 1993.

Rao was typically disdainful and did not even show up when Parliament was exercised over the allegations at the beginning of the brief budget session. But unfortunately for Rao, the allegations also form part of a public-interest litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court. In this era of judicial activism, such matters are rarely treated lightly.

Now, Rao can’t treat the matter lightly either. The newly inducted BJP MP Shailendra Mahato announced at a press conference on February 26 that he along with three other MPs, all of whom belonged then to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha(JMM), had received Rs.40 lakh each in July 1993 to bail out the Rao Government.

The PIL, filed by the Rashtriya Mukti Morcha president, Vindra Kumar, alleges that Rao had received money from hawala operator S.K. Jain to win over the votes of a few MPs during the no-trust motion when the Congress(I) was still in a minority. It had only 250 members, 15 less than the number of votes it needed to defeat the motion.

The petitioners claim that though the money was given to the JMM MPs in 1993, the hawala operator had given Rao the money more than a year earlier, when the defections were being planned. According to the petition, the JMM MP Suraj Mandal, who was a lowly paid Railways employee until he entered Parliament, had Rs.52 lakh in his savings bank account No. 17108 in the Naoroji Nagar, Delhi branch of the Punjab National Bank.

Of this, Rs.30 lakh was cash deposited on August 1, 1993-four days after the JMM MPs had voted with the Government to defeat the no-confidence motion. The petition further stated that although S.K. Jain had stated to the CBI that he had given Rs.3 crore to the controversial godman Chandraswami and the Union minister Satish Sharma at the behest of Rao “for the purposes of effecting defection of some MPs”, the CBI was trying to cover up Rao’s role in the scam.

Last week the court issued notice to the CBI to explain why the petition should not be heard. Said P.N. Lekhi, counsel for the petitioners: “The case represents the nadir of constitutional and parliamentary immorality.”

As the charges flew thick and fast, rocking Parliament and dominating the front pages of dailies, there were hints of yet another game of political one-upmanship. Mahato is a recent entrant into the BJP, having joined the party only last month, and there was suspicion that “confession” was engineered by the BJP as part of its strategy to wipe off some of the dirt it had attracted following the chargesheeting of its own leaders in the hawala scandal, particularly its President L.K. Advani, by turning the spotlight on Rao.

According to Mahato, senior Congress(I) leader Buta Singh had taken him along with three other JMM MPs to meet the prime minister two days before the no-confidence vote in the Lok Sabha. In a statement released at the press conference, he said that Rao had personally assured the JMM MPs that all issues relating to the Jharkhand Council will be settled in their favour. He added that Rao had, however, asked them to vote against the impending not rust motion in Parliament. “Only because of our vote, the Government was saved,” he said.

According to the PIL, money was handed over to Mandal by, among others, Shukla and Dhawan at the Holiday Inn Hotel owned by industrialist Lalit Suri, who is known to be close to Congress(I) leaders. “Three days after the vote, Suraj Mandal called me to his house and handed me Rs.40 lakh and said the money had come from Rao. We did not realise there was anything wrong and decided to put the money in the bank.”

According to noted lawyer Ram Jethmalani, who assisted Mahato at the press conference, the statement was enough to compel investigating agencies to reopen the case regarding Rao’s involvement in the hawala scam. “It is intrinsic corroboration of S.K. Jain’s confession (now before the Supreme Court) that he had given money at Rao’s behest for effecting defections in support of the Congress(I),” Jethmalani said. Legally, Mahato’s statement is admissible evidence and the Court can take cognizance of it .

Reacting to the petition in the high court, the CBI has now begun investigations. But, according to reliable sources in the agency, these will be directed not at the prime minister but at Mahato. On February 26, the agency verified the accounts of all the four MPs in the Naoroji Nagar branch of the Punjab National Bank.

As the allegations constitute a non-cognizable offence — in that the police cannot initiate a case against the person making the allegations — they will complete their investigations and submit a report to the court. In case the court is convinced that there is no case, the court can then direct the agency to file a case under Section 182 of the IPC for giving false information against Mahato. In addition, Mahato could face charges of accepting illegal gratification under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Both the Congress(I) and the JMM’s Mandal have termed Mahato’s charges as “irresponsible allegations”. Mandal says the MPs voted for the Government after Rao assured them that he would personally monitor matters related to the Jharkhand Council and claims the money in his bank account was “party funds raised through donations from the people”.

When it was pointed out to him that party funds are normally deposited in the name of the organisation after banks are handed resolutions to this effect from party office-bearers, he said this procedure had not been followed in the case.

In an obvious counter-offensive against Mahato, Mandal claimed that the new BJP MP had been offered Rs.2 crore to level allegations against Rao. “The BJP has been in the dock after Advani was chargesheeted in the hawala case. Now  they are trying to nail Rao by luring Mahato to join with the promise of a Lok Sabha seat,” he said. Even as he made the charges, Mandal was unable to explain the source of funds that lay in his account. “Why should I reveal? Let the other parties reveal first, then I will,” he said.

Predictably, there is nervousness in the Congress(I) following the new charges, while the opposition National Front and left parties have reacted with glee. The Janata Dal believes Mahato’s charges only help buttress its argument that Rao had used money power to cause three splits in its ranks.

The BJP, still reeling from the shock of the chargesheeting of Advani, believes this will be the beginning of Rao’s end. Says Khurana: “Things are moving very fast. There will be several new exposes in the near future and all of Rao’s carefully laid out plans will boomerang.” To resist the concerted onslaught from the combined opposition, Rao will have to resort to the unusual tactics that he is so known for.

– with CHARULATA JOSHI and JAVED M. ANSARI

INDIA TODAY15 March 1996

India Today 15 March 1996

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