Karnataka is the last major state still under the control of the Congress. And with only 14 months left for the assembly election, the party is bracing for a tough battle with arch rival BJP.
In its effort to corner the BJP, the party is planning to make a campaign issue of the purported conversation between former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and Union minister HN Ananth Kumar about paying money to saffron party's high command.
The conversation was recorded on video and made public by the Congress, which accused the duo of “misusing political power and public office for collecting money through devious means and ‘sharing of the loot’ at the highest level”. Demanding strict action against the two leaders, the party dared Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah to remove them and file an FIR against them.
In the video, Kumar can purportedly be heard saying, “When in power, you have also paid money, I have also paid money, when did I say I haven’t paid? But not Rs 1,000 crore. But one has to then tell how much has been paid?”
The conversation was in reference to a purported diary seized during the raid by the Income Tax officials from Congress MLC Govind Raj, wherein it was mentioned that alleged payments of over Rs 600 crore have been made to the party high command. The diary contains details about payments, along with purported names and initials of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi and senior leader Motilal Vora.
In the video, Kumar is also heard telling the former chief minister to keep the issue alive until the next election. BJP leaders are of the opinion that contents of the diary could be used for political gain. The Congress, however, argues that if this diary is so consequential, then what about a probe into the Sahara and Birla diaries.
“The diary recovered from the Congress MLC has not been authenticated and it seems to be a politically motivated move orchestrated to defame the party. If the BJP does try to raise the issue, we can always raise the Sahara-Birla diaries, which clearly mention that a certain amount was made to PM Modi when he was the chief minister of Gujarat,” said Congress General Secretary BK Hariprasad.
Despite Kumar's request to Yedyurappa to keep the issue alive till the 2018 assembly election, the senior Congress leader claimed this is unlikely as it can backfire given the Sahara-Birla diaries have the prime minister's name in them. “It would be foolish of them to make it an election issue. If they target our leaders, we will target the prime minister,” Hariprasad added.
Moreover, sources said, there are clear instructions from the Congress high command that if the BJP raises the issue, then the party should raise the Sahara-Birla diaries and the video conversation between the two BJP leaders. The Congress has also dared Yedyurappa to make the names listed in the diary public and insisted that it is not scared of a CBI probe.
Meanwhile, one man who is troubling the Congress is former chief minister SM Krishan, who recently quit the party. Sources said Krishna could try and sabotage the party's bid to retain power. They aren't ruling out the possibility of him joining the BJP ahead of assembly election.
“Congress gave everything to Krishna. One wonders what else can the party offer the man hungry for power. He has become like Ajit Jogi, who has been given all the privileges and still wants more. Just like Jogi, he too could hurt the party in the upcoming polls, however,” said a Karnataka Congress leader on the condition for anonymity.
The Congress leader didn't rule out the possibility of the BJP having forced Krishna to quit. He pointed to “rumors” of Income Tax officials “unearthing malpractices in the business of Krishna's son-in-law” and claimed that the BJP used it to “blackmail” Krishna. Hariprasad, when asked about this, did not comment on these unconfirmed reports.
Meanwhile, on a complaint filed by a Congress leader, the video of the conversation between the two BJP leaders has been sent to a laboratory to confirm its authenticity. The police, too, has initiated an investigation. The Congress, however, is not interested in the questioning of the two leaders, believing it believes could backfire.
For now, the political developments of Karnataka are revolving around these pay-offs, with both the BJP and the Congress making allegations and counter allegations to keep the issue alive. But how much it will effect the coming election remains to be seen.