Senior Congress leader R Roshan Baig was detained at Bengaluru International Airport on Monday night by an SIT probing the multi-crore IMA Group ponzi scam. Baig is among the 16 MLAs of the ruling Congress-JDS government in Karnataka who have resigned since July 6 sending the coalition into turmoil.
Baig, 65, was scheduled to fly on a chartered aircraft to Pune with Santhosh, the personal secretary of Karnataka BJP chief and former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa, to join a group of 13 rebel coalition MLAs who have been camping in Mumbai for the last 10 days.
It has been rumoured for several weeks that the Congress MLA may switch to the BJP.
Last month, Baig was named by the founder of the IMA Group Mohammed Mansoor Khan as one of the persons who had taken large amounts of funds from the firm, leading to the eventual collapse of the ponzi scheme run by the company leaving over 40,000 investors in the lurch.
Baig had been called for questioning twice, on July 11 and July 15, by the SIT in connection with the scam but was given a grace period on both occasions in what seemed to be part of a political strategy by the ruling Congress-JDS combine to keep the MLA within the coalition fold ahead of a crucial trust vote on July 18.
The Congress MLA’s attempt to leave Bengaluru on Monday night is being seen as an effort by the BJP to bolster its chances to win the bitter and tight vote.
"Today SIT probing the IMA case detained Roshan Baig for questioning at the BIAL airport while he was trying leave along with Yeddyurappa’s PA Santosh on a chartered flight to Mumbai. I was told that on seeing the SIT, Santhosh ran away while the team apprehended Mr. Baig," Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy said late on Monday night.
"BJP’s Yogeshwar (a BJP leader) was present at the time. It’s a shame that the Karnataka BJP is helping a former minister who is facing a probe in the IMA case. This clearly shows BJP’ s direct involvement in destabilizing the govt through horse trading," Kumaraswamy said.
The BJP in Karnataka has denied the accusations of the chief minister and accused the state government of misusing agencies like the SIT to protect its own interests.
"CM H D Kumaraswamy is using the state machinery to save his government. Mr. Roshan Baig was given time till 19th July to appear before the SIT. This shows how the state is blackmailing and treating their own MLAs," the BJP said in an official statement after Baig was detained by the SIT in the Bengaluru airport on Monday night.
"It is false that Yeddyurappa’s PA Santhosh was travelling along with Mr. Baig. The CM is peddling fake news and misleading the state. It was only Mr. Baig who was travelling and there was no second passenger. We demand a check of boarding passes and CCTV footage to put out the facts," the Karnataka unit the BJP said in its reaction.
With the resignation of 16 MLAs, the Congress-JDS combine in Karnataka is tottering on the brink of collapse with its numbers reduced to a minority of 101 MLAs compared to the BJP’s 105.
The resignations of the MLAs are yet to be accepted by Speaker of the state Assembly K R Ramesh Kumar. A Supreme Court case in this regard is set to be taken up on Tuesday.
Baig is among a group of around eight MLAs from the Bangalore region the coalition is hoping to win back ahead of the trust vote especially on account of Baig’s links to the IMA scam. The Shivajinagar MLA has also used his resignation as a bargaining chip to avoid arrest in the scam.
The veteran Congress leader is an eight time MLA and has been a minister on six occasions. He was suspended by the Congress party in May this year after the Lok Sabha polls for blaming Congress leaders for the losses suffered by the party in the polls.
After his resignation last week Baig had stated that he will not go to Mumbai to join other rebels but would remain in Bengaluru to oversee Haj pilgrimage arrangements since he is was appointed as the state head of the Haj Committee by the union minority affairs ministry.
Baig has been tipped to be a likely defector to the BJP in Karnataka since the BJP lacks a popular Muslim leader in the region and because Baig has had a falling out with the Congress for promoting the minister Zameer Ahmed Khan as its primary Muslim face in the state.
The Congress-JDS coalition and the BJP are watching their flocks of MLAs like hawks over the last few days from fear of them crossing over to the other side ahead of the trust vote that has been sought by Kumaraswamy on July 18. All parties have shepherded their MLAs to private resorts around Bengaluru to protect them against poaching by the other side.