It began well before the first glimmer of dawn. The IT team from Delhi arrived in Bhopal in mini-buses and cars hired from private operators. They drove around the city, masquerading as tourists to dodge the police pickets set on the roads in view of the upcoming polls. For the first time in the state, the CRPF provided security cover to the IT department team instead of the Madhya Pradesh police. On April 6, the state intelligence received inputs that a CRPF company, comprising 150 men, was heading for MP from Delhi. They were told that it was being dispatched for the elections and ‘collaborative work’.
Around 3 am on April 7, 300 personnel of the IT department descended on MP CM Kamal Nath’s associates in over 50 locations in four states. They raided the homes of Praveen Kakkad, officer on special duty (OSD) to Nath, in Bhopal and Indore; Ashwin Sharma, said to be close to Kakkad, in Bhopal; and R.K. Mig-lani, Nath’s Man Friday for decades, in Delhi’s Green Park. They also swooped down on the residences of Prateek Joshi, a relative of Sharma, in Bhopal, and Ratul Puri, Nath’s nephew, in Delhi.
In a press release, the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) declared that unaccounted cash of Rs 14.6 crore, 252 bottles of liquor, arms and tiger skins were found during the raids. They claimed to have detected a “widespread and well-organised racket” of Rs 281 crore. They also found several unaccounted properties at “posh locations in Delhi”.
Interestingly, even before the CBDT released their statement, BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya tweeted the amount uncovered, giving fuel to the allegations that the raids were politically motivated.
Within hours of the raids, the Election Commission wrote to the Union revenue secretary, giving the “strong advice” that all enforcement action by agencies under its jurisdiction should be “absolutely neutral, impartial and non-discriminatory”. The EC also said where use of illicit money for electoral purposes was suspected, the chief electoral officer (CEO) of the state should be informed during the period when the model code of conduct is in place. The CEO is understood to have told the EC that he had not received a report regarding the raids from the IT nodal officer till 7 pm on April 7. There are reports that the EC has called a meeting with the CBDT chief and revenue secretary to quiz them over the raids in poll season.
In Bhopal, CRPF men carrying AK-47 assault rifles sealed Platinum Plaza, the residential-cum-commercial complex where Sharma’s flat is located. No one was allowed to go inside or come out, including the seriously ill. As riot-gear clad police surrounded the complex, it appeared as if the confrontation would take an ugly turn. Bhupendra Singh, city superintendent of police, Habib-ganj, Bhopal told the media, “We have nothing to with the raids. We are here just to ensure that other residents of the complex do not face problems.” Later, the CRPF allowed a female resident to go to hospital in an ambulance. In Indore, the CRPF jawans guarding Kakkad’s home did not allow Ruchi Vardhan Mishra, an IPS officer and SSP of the city, to go inside.
Shobha Oza, the state Congress spokesperson said, “Not only the Congress, but other opposition parties, including TDP, JD(S) and Trinamool, have been victims of Modi’s high-handedness and blatant misuse of central government agencies.” She alleged that Ashwin Sharma was a BJP man and added that in any case, he couldn’t have acquired all the property, cars and cash in just three months of Congress rule.
The leader of Opposition, Gopal Bhargava, says he was shocked by the seizure of money. “If the OSD of the chief minister can accumulate such a huge sum, imagine the kind of money that can be amassed by his ministers,” he remarked. “This matter must be investigated. Kamal Nath should resign on moral grounds and support the IT officials doing their job.” However, the chief minister remains unfazed. “People are aware of the truth behind such actions. They will give them a befitting reply in the Lok Sabha elections,” he told reporters.
By K.S. Shaini in Bhopal