BJP used cash for much of its land buying spree before Modi's note ban
This Friday was a busy day in political circles from Delhi to Patna. There was a flurry of press conferences and sound bytes over Catch's story questioning the Narendra Modi government's claim of iron curtain secrecy surrounding the demonetisation. It stated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had bought land worth crores of rupees days before the policy was made public.
Catch accessed deeds of at least 10 such property transactions done by BJP functionaries in Bihar for the party. The report also quoted one BJP leader as saying that such purchases were not limited to Bihar alone.
The Congress raised the issue in a press conference inside the Parliament premises. Addressing journalists at their party office, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leaders also cited the Catch report to reiterate the allegations of a massive scam behind the demonetisation. On the other hand, senior BJP leader Sushil Modi defended his party at a press briefing in Patna.
While it is nobody's argument to question BJP's right to buy land through legal means, the timing of these dealings raises questions. Prime Minister Modi had declared Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes as illegal tender on 8 November.
Later, he elaborated that the preparations for the move had started six months ago and only a handful of party leaders and bureaucrats were privy to the decision.
What the documents reveal
The documents show that BJP was on a land-buying overdrive in around a dozen districts of Bihar between August and the first week of November. Sanjeev Chaurasia, BJP MLA from Digha, told Catch that the instructions to buy land had come from party's central leadership. He was among the senior party functionaries who was made a signatory in several of these deals. The money for the purchase also came from the party command, if Chaurasia is to be believed.
Another BJP leader Prem Kumar defends the land purchase. "humne zameeno ki khareed ki hai, iska uddeshya har zile mein party ka mukhyalaya sthapit karna hai. Hum to abhi bhi zameenein khareed rahe hain" ("We have bought land parcels for the purpose of building party offices in every district. We are purchasing land even now)" he says.
However, this explanation is not likely to allay suspicions over the motive of the land deals. The same leadership that was supposedly preparing for the demonetisation was also sending money to local party units at the same time, asking them to go on a land purchase spree. Is it not a clear-cut case of conflict of interest?
What was the urgency to buy land on war-footing just before the note ban? Was the BJP trying to save itself from the fallout of demonetisation by investing in real estate? Nobody in the party is ready to answer this question. Sushil Modi has only claimed that none of the purchases was illegal. However, he has not disclosed any details of cheques or bank accounts that were used to pay for the deals.
Catch spoke to some of the people associated with these purchases. Many persons covering the issue were also contacted. Considering the sensitivity of the matter, none of them was willing to come on record. But at least two of these sources confirmed that money was paid in cash.
A person party to one of the purchases told Catch that Rs 70 lakh were paid in cash for the land registry. All efforts to contact the other buyers went in vain as they have stopped taking phone calls.
BJP leader Babu Singh has purportedly played an important role in these dealings. On Thursday, he had admitted before a news channel that land was indeed bought with cash. However, he refused to speak to Catch, claiming that he was ill.
Another BJP leader Dileep Jaiswal also finds a place in the list of land buyers. Incidentally, he is also the party's treasurer. According to the available information, Jaiswal also runs a medical college in Kishanganj. He has stopped attending phone calls altogether after the controversy erupted.