With a string of controversies, including a highway robbery that’s being probed as an alleged hawala case, rocking the Kerala unit of the BJP, the top national leadership of the party has asked a three-member “independent” panel to submit reports on the distribution and use of election funds provided to the party.

Each of the panel members — retired civil servants C V Ananda Bose, Jacob Thomas and E Sreedharan who are now associated with the party — was asked to submit a report after talking to various leaders and candidates on funds sent from the central BJP to the state unit ahead of the just-concluded elections.

While Thomas, a former IPS officer, and Sreedharan, former Delhi Metro chief, contested on BJP tickets in the April elections, they were not until recently active members of the party, and hence not seen as belonging to any particular faction. Bose is a retired IAS officer.

At least one of them has confirmed to The Indian Express that the report has been submitted.

Sources said the reports were sought by both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

According to sources, the party leadership, which has been flooded with complaints and demands of change of leadership in the faction-ridden state unit after its humiliating performance in the election, also asked Rajya Sabha MP Suresh Gopi to “collect information” from state leaders.

The top leadership’s move to seek a report from a team that is seen as independent is significant as B L Santosh, General Secretary (Organisation), was in charge of the state affairs. The decision comes at a time when a section of BJP leaders in Kerala has complained to the top leadership against Santosh, whom they accuse of favouring the official faction led by state unit chief K. Surendran.

A number of BJP leaders in Kerala are being probed by the Kerala Police in connection with a highway robbery of Rs 3.5 crore that is suspected to be “unaccounted election funds”. Senior BJP leaders as well as Surendran’s personal aide have already been questioned.

The state party leadership had to face more embarrassment after a leader of the Janathipathya Rashtriya Sabha claimed that her party’s chief, C K Jaanu, a prominent tribal face, had demanded Rs 10 crore from Surendran — and finally settled for Rs 10 lakh — to return to the NDA before the April 6 Assembly polls.

Then, the party was left red-faced when K Sundara, a BSP candidate who had filed his nomination from Manjeswaram constituency, one of the seats from where Surendran contested, alleged that he was paid Rs 2.5 lakh to withdraw his nomination. The BJP has denied the allegations.

While privately admitting that the controversies have worsened the BJP’s prospects of emerging as a credible political alternative, the national leadership has directed the state leaders to get their act together and come up as a single unit.

On Sunday, ahead of the state BJP key core committee meeting, former party president Kummanam Rajasekharan slammed the ruling CPI-M and the main Opposition Congress for “trying to corner” Surendran. “BJP will not allow it,” Rajasekharan said.

Sources in the Kerala BJP said the national leadership has put Rajasekharan, who still enjoys the image of being a clean politician, in charge of defending the party.

According to sources, the BJP’s defence in the robbery case came in for strong criticism in the core committee meeting. A section of leaders have cautioned that the party’s “denial mode” in the case could further dent its image and credibility. “We will be ridiculed before the public,” warned a leader, according to sources.

“The intensifying groupism is the reason behind not only the party’s humiliating defeat in the Assembly election but also the recent controversies that have dented the party’s image and credibility,” said a senior BJP leader from Kerala on condition of anonymity.

“The highway robbery case would not have come out had the party been united. It got exposed only because of factionalism,” the leader said, adding that the ‘robbery’, which some alleged as stage-managed, got reported to the police only because the rival faction “realised” the funds did not reach them or their candidates. “Now it has become a major embarrassment for the BJP and the RSS, because RSS leaders’ names are also dragged into it,” the leader pointed out.

The BJP lost its lone seat in the Assembly, Nemom, to the CPI-M and its vote share plummeted to 11.30 per cent from 14.46 per cent in the 2016 Assembly polls.

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