After four months of black-money allegations dogging the Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala, a case involving Rs 3.5 crore in hawala money and senior state BJP leaders reached an anti-climax on 24 July, with the state police not accusing any party leaders in its chargesheet. The massive sum of money was stolen from a car on the Kodakara highway, in Thrissur district, on 3 April, three days before the state went to polls for the assembly elections. The state police later said that the money was to be distributed to the BJP’s Alappuzha district unit, with the complicity of the state party president, K Surendran, and the state organising secretary, M Ganesh. In the following months, opposition leaders also accused BJP politicians of offering large sums of money ahead of the elections. The BJP ultimately failed to win a single seat in the elections, but has so far escaped any culpability on the numerous black-money allegations.
The Kodakara robbery case was the first in a slew of black-money allegations against the BJP’s Kerala unit. On 2 June, Praseeda Azhikode, the state treasurer of the Janadhipathya Rashtriya Sabha, said that Surendran had paid Rs 10 lakh to the JRS president and tribal leader, CK Janu, who was in talks with the Left Democratic Front around the time, to support the BJP-led National Democatic Alliance in the polls. Azhikode’s allegations came in the wake of a leaked audio clip, purportedly between her and Surendran, in which she informed him that Janu had asked for Rs 10 lakh. Three days later, K Sundara, a Bahujan Samaj Party leader, said that the Kerala BJP had offered him Rs 15 lakh to withdraw his nomination from the Manjeshwar constituency, where he was contesting against Surendran. Sundara announced that he withdrew his nomination, but the BJP only paid him Rs 2.5 lakh and a phone worth Rs 15,000. Surendran ultimately lost the election.
The various allegations suggested serious attempts to compromise the electoral process ahead of the recently concluded assembly polls. The Kerala Police, however, appear to have found little evidence in the Kodakara case, with the chargesheet citing a lack of cooperation from the accused and Rs 1.47 crore yet to be recovered. While the chargesheet categorically states that the money was illegally sourced from Bengaluru through a hawala agent for meeting the BJP’s expenses for the Kerala assembly elections, it does not name a single BJP leader among the accused. Even Dharmarajan, who is described in the chargesheet as the hawala agent responsible for delivering the money to various BJP offices during the investigation, is only named as a witness in the chargesheet. Yet, the case and the allegations raised by Sundara and Azhikode, all in the wake of an electoral rout, have led to disquiet among the state BJP unit.
The Kodakara highway robbery took place three days before the state elections, held on 6 April, but was reported to the police one day after. On 7 April, Shamjeer Shamsudeen, the driver of the vehicle, filed a police complaint at the Kodakara police station that a gang of nine men had waylaid his car on the highway and robbed him of Rs 25 lakh. But according to the chargesheet, during the course of the investigation, the police discovered that the amount was actually Rs 3.5 crore, given to him by a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh named Dharmarajan, and involved several state BJP leaders.
On 15 June, VK Raju, the additional commissioner of police in Thrissur, submitted a status report to the Irinjalakuda district court about the investigation. “It is clear that 3.5 crore rupees was procured from Karnataka through a hawala operation on the directions of BJP’s state office secretary Gireeshan Nair and organising secretary Ganesh and that the robbery took place on 03/4/2021 on the way to hand over this money to BJP’s treasurer Gopalakrishna Kartha in Alappuzha district,” the report stated. The police noted that Dharmarajan’s role was to deliver the hawala money to whoever demanded it, and that he received a commission for the same. The status report further noted that during his interrogation on 21 and 27 May, Dharmarajan named Nair and Ganesh as the individuals behind the order to transport the Rs 3.5 crore to the party treasurer.