Channel blows lid off cash-for-rally scam

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  • Published 15.10.10

Mumbai, Oct. 14: A “money-for-rally” controversy has hit a party event Sonia Gandhi is due to attend in Maharashtra tomorrow after a news channel showed footage of two Congress leaders talking about how lakhs were collected from ministers to fund the meet.

According to the footage aired by the ABP Group-owned STAR Majha, Rs 2 crore was collected from chief minister Ashok Chavan for the Sadbhawana rally at Sewagram in Wardha district, while cabinet ministers paid Rs 10 lakh.

The Opposition has demanded the chief minister’s resignation and a judicial probe into what it called a “money-for-rally” scam.

The footage shows state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre and Nagpur-based leader Satish Chaturvedi discussing how the funds were raised. TV cameras picked up their conversation at an unguarded moment at a media conference in Nagpur today to brief journalists about tomorrow’s rally.

“You ask them (cabinet ministers) for an amount up to Rs 15 lakh. If you stretch it too far, then they run away,” Chaturvedi is heard saying.

“We have already taken Rs 10-10 lakh and we will use it for making flags,” is Thakre’s reply. “Subhash Jhanak (women and child welfare minister) has given only Rs 5 lakh…”

The footage also shows Thakre saying “the CM had telephoned me and said let whoever pays contribute, but I will give Rs 2 crore for 2,000 buses today itself”.

“That’s what should happen,” Chaturvedi is heard telling Thakre. “Now he has come on the right track. What was he doing earlier?”

Chavan later claimed the funds came from party workers. “The footage distorts what happened. It’s a fact that funds are required for large party programmes like tomorrow’s rally and party workers contribute to it,” he said. He denied he had paid Rs 2 crore for the rally, which would mark the culmination of a flag march to celebrate 125 years of the party.

But an aggressive Opposition seized on the controversy. “Mahatma Gandhi worked selflessly for the poor, but this Gandhi seems to be different,” said Shiv Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut. “What to do with Manikrao Thakre is the Congress’s own issue, but since the chief minister holds a constitutional office, he should resign immediately.”

BJP leader Gopinath Munde said: “This is not Mahatma Gandhi’s Congress any longer. It is Sonia and Rahul Gandhi’s Congress party. If the party is asking ministers to contribute funds, it is an open secret how these ministers will raise these funds.”

The controversy has come as an embarrassment for the Congress high command as the rally — originally scheduled for October 2 before it was deferred because of the Ayodhya verdict — was conceived to evoke the Mahatma’s association with the party. Apart from addressing a mammoth rally, Sonia is scheduled to attend a prayer meet near Bapu Kuti in Sewagram where Gandhi had stayed.