New Delhi, (IANS) A day after he joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), sacked BSP leader Babu Singh Kushwaha’s premises were raided by the CBI Wednesday for his alleged involvement in a multi-crore rural health scam, triggering a fresh political row between the Congress and BJP a month ahead of the Uttar Pradesh elections.
While the Congress lost no time in attacking the BJP over backing a tainted former minister, the saffron party put up a brave face to ward off criticism, but there were murmurs of discontent within the party over its new member.
The Central Bureau of Investigation carried out raids in 60 places in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
The man in the eye of the storm, Kushwaha, who joined BJP Tuesday with great fanfare, said he was innocent of any wrongdoing.
“BSP and Congress are hand in glove in this conspiracy. I am against this conspiracy and am ready to face any kind of probe. I will be proved innocent,” Kushwaha, a prominent backward caste leader, told television channels.
CBI spokesperson Dharini Mishra denied the agency was working under “government directions” to conduct the raids. “It was an open and shut case,” Mishra said.
“We conducted raids at three different premises of Babu Singh Kushwaha, two premises in Lucknow and one in Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh,” she said, adding that they have recovered some documents.
The searches, which the BJP termed as politically motivated, were conducted in connection with alleged financial irregularities in the supply of medicines and medical equipment in the Rs.10,000 crore National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) scam in Uttar Pradesh.
Kushwaha, a prominent OBC leader and once a trusted lieutenant of BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, was removed as family welfare minister in April following his alleged involvement in the embezzlement. He was sacked from the BSP in November.
Justifying Kushwaha’s induction, BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters in New Delhi that the timing of the CBI search operation was suspect.
“The BJP is not a shield for corrupt people. But the CBI raids seem motivated. Why did the CBI take so long for carrying out searches,” Naqvi told reporters.
BJP state chief Surya Pratap Shahi, who got Kushwaha into the party said “we will defend our decision” to induct him.
Other BJP leaders like Vinay Katiyar and Ananth Kumar also supported Kushwaha, saying the law will take its own course against him.
The party however clarified that Kushwaha, charged with criminal misconduct and misuse of office in implementing the scheme, will not be given a ticket for the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
But, sources said, the party is split wide open on inducting the tainted minister.
Kumar said: “Kushwaha is one of the strongest leaders of the OBC in Uttar Pradesh. BJP is getting stronger day by day.”
The Congress slammed the BJP for welcoming the tainted politician in its fold for the sake of votes.
Said Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways Jitin Prasada: “In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP stands exposed. It is willing now to offer bouquets and hug anybody for the sake of votes. It now stands exposed on its claim as the most honest political party in the country.”
Added Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi: “(The BJP) is inducting such corrupt people into the party. This shows how much commitment the party has in fighting corruption in the country.”
Alvi accused the BJP of “double standards” on the issue of corruption.
In Delhi, CBI sources said many houses and commercial establishments owned by Kushwaha and his associates, including legislator Ram Chandra Pradhan, were searched in 12 districts, including Lucknow and Ghaziabad.
The sources said the CBI was inquiring into implementation of the scheme and utilisation of funds since its launch in 2005-06. The funds under the health scheme were allocated to the state by the union health ministry.
The tainted politician enjoys a large clout among the Kushwaha community in the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, which will see seven-phased elections Feb 4-28.