Mahila Morcha leader Juhi Chowdhury’s arrest for her alleged involvement in a baby-trafficking racket in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district has come as a major setback for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the State. She was arrested by the State’s Criminal Investigation Department on February 28 from Kharibari near the Nepal border after a 10-day search. The names of several other State- and national-level BJP leaders have come up during investigations. This was the second time in three months that names of BJP leaders came up in separate baby-selling rackets.
The latest case was unearthed when the Central Adoption Resource Authority (CARA) spotted irregularities in the activities of Bimala Sishu Griha, a government-approved home for newborns in Jalpaiguri, and alerted the State police. According to preliminary investigations, as many as 17 babies were sold from the home to Indians and foreigners. On February 19, the police arrested the institution’s director, Chandana Chakraborty, and her assistant, Sonali Mondal. Chandana Chakraborty heads two other organisations in the region—the Ashroy Short Stay Home and the North Bengal People’s Development Committee, a non-governmental organisation.
According to Chandana Chakraborty, Juhi was first approached by the home for “help” in solving certain “problems” of the organisation. According to informed sources, the home repeatedly got into trouble with the CARA over its activities and sought to use Juhi Chowdhury’s BJP connections at the Centre to smoothen out the difficulties. Chandana Chakraborty claimed that on several occasions she had accompanied Juhi to Delhi, where the latter apparently met senior BJP leaders. “I am being used as a pawn…. I never spoke to anyone. Juhi Chowdhury spoke to Rupa Ganguly and Kailash Vijayvargiya…. Juhi Chowdhury has been linked with this organisation for the past three years. If there have been irregularities, then it has been committed by them,” she told journalists when she was produced before a court in north Bengal.
Juhi Chowdhury went into hiding as soon as Chandana Chakraborty was arrested. The CID tracked her down from the location of the cellphone tower to which her phone was connected. Two CID officers, dressed as mendicants, made the surprise arrest on the Nepal border, where she had been staying. “I have been made a scapegoat. The CID should explore certain issues to find out who the real culprits are,” she said when she was produced before a court in north Bengal. Initially the State BJP appeared to stand firmly behind Juhi as it accused the Trinamool Congress government of “political vendetta”. Actor-turned-BJP leader Rupa Ganguly, who is known to be close to Juhi, said: “Such filthy allegations are being made against me, and against Juhi. She is just a young girl. They will have to pay a price for it.” State BJP president Dilip Ghosh claimed that the State government was trying to frame opposition leaders: “It is clear this is a political conspiracy. That lady [Chandana Chakraborty] had been running the home for the last 10 years. Why did the police not do anything about it for so long?”
However, the day after the arrest, Dilip Ghosh changed tack and both Juhi Chowdhury and her father, BJP leader Rabindra Narayan Chowdhury, were summarily removed from their party posts. He said: “Going by media reports and the fact that she and her father had been to Delhi without informing the party, we decided to remove them from their respective positions. If they remain, it may be detrimental to the party’s image.” BJP sources said the party’s central leadership was behind the decision. “The elections in Uttar Pradesh and other States had to be taken into consideration while making this decision. However, Juhi has not been expelled from the party,” one of the sources said.
The State government and the ruling Trinamool Congress were also left red-faced when two District Child Protection Officers, Mrinal Ghosh and his wife, Sasmita Ghosh, were arrested, along with a doctor, Debasish Chanda, for their alleged involvement in the child-selling racket. While Sasmita was serving as DCPO Jalpaiguri, her husband was posted in the adjoining Darjeeling district. Debasish Chanda was a member of the Darjeeling Child Wefare Committee. According to administration sources, the husband-wife duo contrived to transfer infants to the home run by Chandana Chakraborty. They were allegedly paid handsomely for every child that was sold. Earlier, Chandana Chakraborty’s brother Manash Bhowmick, a local-level Trinamool leader from Jalpaiguri, was arrested for his role in the racket.
In November last year, Dilip Ghosh, a doctor who had contested the municipal elections in Bidhannagar on the BJP ticket, was arrested in connection with another baby-smuggling racket in south Bengal.
Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay