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The Great Crossover: Opposition Leaders Who Joined the BJP After Action by Central Agencies

The BJP has been accused of being a "washing machine" where any opposition leader facing criminal charges is accepted and the investigation against them by central agencies stops.
Photo: Bhavana Gawali, Pratap Sarnaik, Hasan Mushrif, Ajit Pawar, Yamini Jadhav,  Chhagan Bhujbal, Ashok Chavan. Illustration: Canva

Mumbai: A week ago, addressing a press conference in Mumbai, the Congress Maharashtra in-charge Ramesh Chennithala said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a “washing machine” and any opposition leader facing an investigation by central agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – and willing to hop over to the other side – is readily accepted in the BJP. Similarly, in Karnataka, chief minister Siddaramaiah called the central agencies “BJP’s affiliates” and Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge called the agencies “BJP’s jawans”.

What Chennithala, Siddaramaiah or Kharge said is not new.

These coinages have gained wide popularity in the recent years, as many leaders from the opposition have jumped ship and joined either the BJP or its ally parties fearing adverse action against them. 

The Wire has put together a state-wise list of politicians who have joined the BJP in the past several months while facing criminal charges by the central agencies. 

This is not a comprehensive list; in fact, even as we put it together, many leaders from the opposition camp might actually be on their way to a nearby BJP office. 


Bhavana Gawali: In 2020, the ED accused Gawali, the member of parliament from Yavatmal-Washim constituency in Maharashtra, of alleged misappropriation of Rs 7 crore from a public trust, Mahila Utkarsha Pratisthan, where Gawali was chairperson.

A few months later, the ED arrested her close aide, Saeed Khan. In late 2021 and 2022, Gawali was summoned multiple times to the ED office for an inquiry. Meanwhile, the ED filed a chargesheet in the case and named five persons. The public trust linked to Gawali was also mentioned in the ED chargesheet.

In July 2022, however, Gawali decided to join the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction. She was soon announced the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha. 

The ED case? There have been no developments since then. Neither has the ED filed a supplementary chargesheet nor has Gawali been summoned for further inquiries. 

Pratap Sarnaik: In June 2021, while still with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, Sarnaik had written to Thackeray asking him to patch things up with the BJP. “This will save the party of the harassment by central investigation agencies,” the Ovala-Majiwada constituency MLA had claimed in the letter. 

Sarnaik and his family, at that time, were facing an ED investigation in connection with the National Spot Exchange Limited (NSEL) scam worth Rs 5,600 crore. The ED had questioned him and had also taken into possession 112 plots belonging to his firm. 

In June 2022, as Eknath Shinde decided to rebel against the Thackeray camp and join hands with the BJP, Sarnaik was one of the first ones to jump ship. 

Interestingly, this case was first handled by the state Economic Offences Wing (EOW) which had filed a closure report while Thackeray was the state chief minister. But the ED had eventually taken over the case. Once Sarnaik went along with the Shinde faction, the ED, as expected, slowed its investigation down. 

Hasan Mushrif: In March 2023, the ED conducted searches at Mushrif’s residence and offices in Mumbai and Kolhapur in connection with an alleged money laundering case. BJP leader Kirit Somaiya had alleged that Mushrif had misappropriated funds in the Sar Senapati Santaji Ghorpade Sugar Mill, Appasaheb Nalwade Gadhinlaj Taluka Cooperative Sugar Mill and the running of the Kolhapur District Central Cooperative Bank, of which Mushrif is the chairman. 

Musrif had to move the court which granted him interim relief but his arrest seemed inevitable at that time. But in July 2023, as Ajit Pawar decided to break the National Congress Party (NCP) party and join hands with the BJP, Musrif went too. Since then, there has been no news on any further investigation or raids at his residence. The case, however, is pending in the court. 

Yamini Jadhav: A prominent Sena MLA and wife of former chairman of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)’s Standing Committee Yashwant Jadhav too has been facing ED charges in an alleged Foreign Exchange Management Act (FEMA) violations case. In April 2022, the IT department attached 41 properties belonging to the couple and the ED summoned both her and her husband for inquiry. Later, Jadhav joined the Shinde camp and things have since been quiet for the couple. In July 2022, when Jadhav registered her head count for the Speaker’s election in the assembly as an MLA belonging to the Shinde camp, the members on the opposition benches shouted “ED, ED”, referring to the reasons for her and many other party members’ decision to quit the Thackeray faction. 

Chhagan Bhujbal: A senior NCP leader and a strong OBC face in Maharashtra, Bhujbal decided to switch sides and go with the Ajit Pawar-led NCP. Bhujbal has been facing inquiries in the alleged irregularities in awarding of contracts of over Rs 100 crore for three projects in 2006 when he was the state PWD minister. He was also booked in another alleged money laundering case by the ED and, in 2016, was arrested by the central agency

Although Bhujbal went with Ajit Pawar, he has been openly expressing his discontent but hasn’t shown the courage to quit the party. 

Ashok Chavan: A senior Congress leader and two-time chief minister of Maharashtra, Chavan announced that he too is joining the BJP earlier this month. While he gave no reasons, it is important to note that the 65-year-old MLA from Nanded has been facing a CBI probe for over a decade and half.

He and his family members are accused of being primary beneficiaries of a 31-storey building named Adarsh Co-operative Housing Society which was originally built for 1999 Kargil war heroes and fallen soldiers’ war widows. The ED too is investigating the matter and Chavan has been named as an accused. 

The Supreme Court ordered a stay in the proceedings in 2018. The trial in the CBI case is yet to begin. The ED, meanwhile has not proceeded with arrests or filed a chargesheet.

Baba Siddiqui: In 2017, the ED conducted raids at the premises linked to Siddiqui in connection with a money laundering case over a land deal related to a slum rehabilitation project. The three-time MLA from Mumbai’s Bandra had allegedly misused his position as chairman of the Mumbai board of The Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) between 2000-2004 and allowed irregularities re-development of a slum at Bandra in suburban Mumbai. Siddiqui, according to the ED was a direct beneficiary. 

While the case is pending, the ED has slowed down action against Siddiqui. Earlier this month, Siddiqui resigned from the Congress party to join Ajit Pawar’s NCP.  

Ajit Pawar: A senior NCP leader, who shocked the party by suddenly deciding to break ties with his uncle and party founder Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar is not new to controversies. Ajit has been facing cases filed by multiple agencies – both on the state and central level. These cases – pertaining to a co-operative bank and the state irrigation project – has dragged on for close to a decade. The action, however, has always been dependent on the party in power. 

For instance, the state’s EOW first accused Pawar of allowing irregularities in loans given by the Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank. Based on this investigation by the EOW, the ED too filed a case of money laundering against him. When the MahaVikas Aghadi came to power in 2019, the EOW case suddenly lost steam and the agency told the court that no evidence was found against him. A closure report was filed before a special court. The ED investigation, however, continued. 

When Ajit was the water resources minister in the Congress-NCP government and chairman of the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation, he was accused of allowing irregularities in the irrigation projects. Based on PILs, the Maharashtra Anti Corruption Branch (ACB) began a court-monitored investigation in this regard. This case again was kept in cold storage and in 2019, a day after he formed the short-lived government with Devendra Fadnavis, the ACB sprung a surprise by submitting a report before the Bombay high court giving him a clean chit. The report, however, is yet to be accepted by the court.


Digambar Kamat: The infamous Louis Berger case involves water management projects taken up in Assam and Goa. Former chief minister Digambar Kamat and former state public works department minister Churchill Alemao were accused in the bribery case. It was first handled by the CBI and the ED came in to picture soon after. According to the FIR, 14 shell companies had ferried bribes worth crores of rupees from the New Jersey-based consultancy Louis Berger to politicians. 

The case and the investigation that started sometime in 2015 against Kamat and others, intensified in 2021. In September 2022, Kamat, along with either other Congress MLAs crossed over to the BJP. 

Andhra Pradesh

C.M. Ramesh and Y.S. Chowdary, two of the four Telegu Desam Party Rajya Sabha members who crossed over to the BJP in June 2021, are also industrialists and have been under the scanner of IT, CBI and ED.

Months before they joined the saffron party, BJP MP and spokesperson G.V.L. Narasimha Rao had called both Chowdary and Ramesh “Andhra Mallyas”. Rao had also written to the Rajya Sabha Ethics Committee, seeking initiation of “suitable action” against them.

Most recently, both AP chief minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and former chief minister Chandrababu Naidu who are facing multiple cases of corruption have begun cosying up with the BJP. While the cases against Reddy is handled by the central agencies CBI and ED, in the case of Naidu, it was the local state police that arrested him last year. It is believed that Reddy would not have gone after Naidu without the tacit support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah. 

West Bengal

Suvendu Adhikari: In 2017, when Adhikari was still with the Trinamool Congress (TMC), he was summoned several times by the ED in connection with the Narada sting operation case. The sting operation carried out by a news outlet had showed several politicians and a high-ranked police officer accepting cash bribes in exchange for providing unofficial favors to a company.

In 2020, Adhikari joined the BJP and today is the leader of opposition in West Bengal Assembly. In the 2021 assembly elections Adhikari won the Nandigram seat against chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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