Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Sunday said he continues to be in contact with Congress leaders because of his long association with the party, downplaying the allegations of his involvement in a ploy to topple the JMM-led Jharkhand government. Sarma, the BJP strongman of the Northeast, said Congress leaders are his old friends and there is nothing much to read into it.
“Congress leaders keep in touch with me as old friends. I had been in that party for over 20 years. They meet me if they come here and I also meet them when in New Delhi,” he told reporters. Sarma, who switched over to the BJP in 2015, made the statement after the Congress claimed that three of its Jharkhand MLAs arrested in the cash haul in West Bengal’s Howrah were in touch with the Assam chief minister.
Acting on a tip-off, the West Bengal Police on Saturday evening intercepted an SUV in which Congress MLAs Irfan Ansari, Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari were travelling, and allegedly found a huge amount of cash in the vehicle. After questioning them overnight, the police arrested them on Sunday afternoon. The Congress claimed that the BJP was trying to topple its coalition government with the JMM in Jharkhand by offering Rs 10 crore to each legislator, besides promising a ministerial berth.
After lodging a police complaint over this, Jharkhand Congress legislator Kumar Jaimangal claimed, “Rajesh Kachchap and Naman Bixal Kongari were asking me to go to Kolkata and were offering money, promising Rs 10 crore per MLA. Ifran Ansari and Rajesh Kachchap wanted to take me to Guwahati from Kolkata where according to them a meeting was fixed with Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.”
Before the Uddhav Thackeray government in Maharashtra was toppled, rebel Siv Sena MLAs, led by now Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, had a prolonged stay at a hotel in Guwahati, purportedly under the patronage of the Sarma-led Assam government. Sarma had himself visited the luxury hotel on the day the legislators from the western state had reached the city, while senior state ministers and police officers were seen at the hotel regularly during their stay.
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