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BJP rally: free lunch, almost

Lucknow, Feb. 20: Red-faced Rudy took only a little over a month to foot his Goa hotel bills. But his party, the BJP, has taken from one election to another.

Lest the ghost that spooked civil aviation minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy bursts upon it again so close to the general elections, the BJP this week picked up the tab for bills it ran up at a Bijnore hotel ahead of the 1999 parliamentary polls.

A couple of hours before Kumar Restaurant owner Anil Kumar was scheduled to call a news conference, the party handed him the Rs 1.36 lakh it owed for 455 food packets bought for an Atal Bihari Vajpayee rally in September that year.

Had Kumar not been pre-empted, it would have been the second embarrassment for the BJP this month. On February 9, Rudy had to clear dues worth Rs 2.44 lakh he had run up at Taj Exotica during a family holiday in Goa after a Delhi paper carried a copy of the bill marked for payment to the Airports Authority of India.

But in Bijnore, the case was a little different. As polls had already been notified, the BJP could not pay for the food packets — each cost Rs 300 — from the party coffers as it would have been treated as election expense.

So, it requested the Bijnore district administration to organise food packets from any hotel though the government cannot foot the bill for a rally organised by a political party.

As a last resort, the Bijnore district magistrate approached Kumar, who agreed to supply the food on condition that he stood guarantor for all payments. The magistrate promised to give him a written undertaking that he would ensure all bills were paid.

However, once elections were over, there was no noise of any payments. Kumar sent the bills to the district administration office but there was no response. The BJP reportedly pleaded ignorance.

After four years, Kumar had given up the fight when the Rudy row broke. Taking a tip from the Goa hotel, he started afresh. “We decided to send a copy of the bill and a letter to the PMO,” one of Kumar’s relatives said.

The PMO forwarded the letter to Uttar Pradesh BJP leaders Kalraj Mishra, Kalyan Singh and Swami Chinmayanand, who were in Meerut at a vijay sankalp rally. Immediately, they called a meeting with the Bijnore leaders and directed them to pay up.

“We immediately organised the money,” Ravindra Chowhan, a local Bijnore leader said. District magistrate S.K. Verma said: “The incident dated back to 1999. I was not DM then.”

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