The first whiff of the cash-for-MLA ticket scam by Hindutva hardliner Chaitra Kundapura came three months ago because of an accidental phone call by a Hindu activist to a seer who was not at all involved in the case.
A Hindu leader from coastal Karnataka, Satyajit Suratkal, phoned one Rajashekharananda Swamiji of Vajradehi Math to ask the latter to return ₹1.5 crore he had taken from an industrialist named Govinda Babu Poojary.
A baffled Rajashekharananda Swamiji told Suratkal that he had met Poojary only once at Kollur and knew nothing about the money.
Suratkal hung up the phone.
But that call sparked events that initially brought the cash-for-MLA ticket scam to light in which Kundapura had taken ₹3.5 crore and the seer Abhinav Halasree pocketed ₹1.5 crore from Poojary with the promise that the duo would use their influence in the BJP to get him the party ticket from Byndoor constituency in the May Assembly election in Karnataka.
Swamiji on a name-clearing spree
However, troubled by the call, Rajashekharananda Swamiji wanted to clear his name, which he felt was being unnecessarily dragged into a matter in which was not involved. So, he told a local television channel about it.
Still unsatisfied, the Swamiji called VHP leader Sharan Pumpwell and told him about the call from Satyajit Suratkal.
Meanwhile, the Swamiji got a second call from Suratkal, who wanted to clarify that the actual person involved in the money matter was not he, Rajashekharananda Swamiji, but another seer, Abhinav Halasree Swamiji.
Rajashekharananda Swamiji now decided to clear his name again but in front of other Hindu leaders and the state BJP top brass. He called Chakravarthy Sulibele, author and founder of Yuva Brigade, and narrated the whole story.
He also informed him that Abhinav Halasree — the seer Suratkal should have originally called — was associated with the Yuva Brigade and that the matter should reach senior BJP leader and former legislator CT Ravi.
The Swamiji did not stop at this. He also called Chaitra Kundapura, but she denied the allegations outright.
The clarification, at last
Finally, the seer phoned Govinda Babu Poojary, the “lender of ₹1.5 crore”, to clear up the matter. Poojary called him back a fortnight later to tell the Swamiji that the latter’s name was not involved in the case. Satisfied, the Swamiji informed CT Ravi and Sulibele to reassure himself that his name would not crop up again.
Poojary eventually filed a police complaint against Chaitra Kundapura on 8 September after attempts to recover the money through negotiations failed.
Speaking to South First, CT Ravi recalled Sulibele informing him of a cheating case around one-and-a-half months ago, but did not ask for the case details as it did not concern the party.
“The Parliamentary Board decides the MLA tickets in our party, and the State Core Committee recommends the candidates, which is the procedure. And this is what happens when people with no idea of contesting a gram panchayat election try to get an MLA ticket to contest Assembly elections, there will also be cheaters. This shows our party’s ticketing system is foolproof,” CT Ravi said.
The investigation so far
The CCB teams investigating the MLA ticket cheating case involving Hindutva hardliner Chaitra Kundapura have recovered ₹56 lakh cash based on confessions by the arrested seer, Abhinav Halasreee Swamiji, who heads a matha in Hire Hadagali in Hospete.
The seer claimed to the CCB that he had returned ₹50 lakh to Govinda Babu Poojary from the amount he had taken from him to get him a BJP MLA ticket. The CCB officials have also recovered several lakhs from one of Halasree’s associates at the Hire Hadagali matha, but did not disclose how much was it.
The CCB officials had arrested Halasree from Cuttack in Odisha on 19 September while he was about to board the Bhubaneshwar-Bodhgaya Express, hoodwinking the police.
A senior CCB official told South First that the seer Halasree had misinformed one of his associates, whom the CCB sleuths were tracking, that he was heading to Varanasi, whereas he planned to visit a temple in Bodhgaya.
“The seer also learnt that the cops were in close pursuit, and he decided not to board the train from Bhubaneswar but from Cuttack junction, which was close by. It was our hunch that the seer could board the train from Cuttack junction, and we had sent a team there, and we found him there.”
The seer was at his matha at Hire Hadagali in Hospete when he learnt about Chaitra Kundapura’s arrest. He left for Mysuru and then to Hyderabad and Srisailam, where the CCB picked up his driver. However, the seer gave the cops a slip and fled to Bhubaneswar.
Recovering the money
According to CCB officials, Halasree had paid ₹4 lakh to his advocates to secure an anticipatory bail while on the run.
With the recovery of ₹56 lakh, the CCB has recovered ₹2.81 crore out of the ₹5 crore that complainant Govinda Babu Poojary allegedly paid Chaitra Kundapura for getting the Byndoor BJP MLA ticket.
Chaitra, the prime accused, had a fixed deposit account of ₹1.8 crore opened in her name recently at a co-operative society both in her name and another accused Srikanth’s name. That amount has since been recovered, along with ₹81 lakh in cash from her house, gold ornaments worth ₹23 lakh that she recently purchased, and a KIA car.
The CCB officials are continuing to question both Chaitra Kundapura and the seer, Abhinav Halasree, jointly and separately to ascertain where the rest of the money is hidden.