“I am in the midst of performing my daily puja. I will talk once I am done with it,” said Dilip Kumar Agarwala, a large jewellery businessman and resident of Chuadanga in Bangladesh. Agarwala, whose forefathers settled in undivided Bengal in the 17th century when the first family migrated from Rajasthan, is Marwari by origin, but speaks flawless Bengali.
The proprietor of Diamond World Ltd, Agarwala is also into politics and has been a lifelong worker for the Awami League.
He tried to secure an Awami League nomination in the controversial 2018 elections which the party ‘won’ in a landslide.
At that time, he had sought to win the ticket jackpot by approaching some BJP leaders in Delhi. “I couldn’t make it last time,” he told Northeast News today over phone.
Agarwala was as good as his word: he returned this correspondent’s call within an hour.
As luck would have it, Agarwala, with links and connections in Surat, couldn’t secure an Awami League ticket to contest the forthcoming general elections slated to be held on January 7.
As in 2018, his two quick visits to Delhi to meet some BJP leaders and at least two Indian ministers didn’t yield any positive result.
He returned to Dhaka empty handed on December 9 and will now contest the elections as an independent candidate.
“This time I was late in approaching the Indian ministers, including Minister of State for Home Nishith Pramanik (who is an MP from West Bengal),” Agarwala admitted.
But he swore that the request for a recommendation to the Awami League leadership for a party ticket was not for any consideration.
Agarwala reached Delhi on a Vistara flight (UK 182) from Dhaka on December 8.
In Delhi, he met Pramanik and a few other BJP leaders before taking an Air India flight (AI 237) to reach Dhaka.
A few days before his December 8 visit to Delhi, he met a top Indian cabinet minister to put forth his case.
Like Agarwala, a host of other Awami League leaders, who were not officially nominated by the party, did not quite visit Delhi but made “other arrangements” to curry favour and, in the process, get them to “put in a good word” with their party leadership so that they could contest the polls.
London-based Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer revealed on X (formerly Twitter) the case of another Awami League “hopeful”, Abul Bashar, who had aimed to contest the Feni-3 seat. Bashar, documents uploaded on X by Saer indicated that he made a payment of Tk 1 crore to a person named A K M Barkatullah on a payment order dated November 23, 2023.
The payment order was drawn on the National Bank Ltd’s Pragati Sarani branch in Dhaka.
Saer’s investigations led him to a startling conclusion: the ultimate beneficiary of Tk 1 crore – the amount supposedly promised by Bashar was Tk 15 crore – was at least one Indian official – though there could be more – who was in a position to swing the nomination in his favour.
Repeated phone calls and messages to Bashar by this correspondent yielded no response.
There are unconfirmed reports of at least two other Awami League leaders from Jessore who are said to have made high-value payoffs to their “Indian friends” in their bid to swing the electoral nominations in their favour.
These two Awami Leaguers are seeking to contest from Jessore-1 and Jessore-5 constituencies.
Perhaps the most intriguing case is that of Mohammad Saiful Alam, the Chairman and Managing Director of the S Alam Group of companies. Saiful Alam, whose name figures in a May 2022 Enforcement Directorate document that he paid a kickback of Tk 1,500 crore to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s US-resident son Sajeeb Wazed Joy in 2014, is said to have recently been in Delhi where he met some Indian security officials.
Saiful Alam is accused of siphoning of no less than Tk 120,000 crore out of Bengaldesh.
What is baffling is that even though Saiful Alam is named in the ED document, the Indian investigating agency has taken no step to question or examine him even though he visited Indian in August, September and November 2023.
Saiful Alam, said to be among Bangladesh’s top oligarchs, was in Delhi for about two weeks and was busy meeting some Indian security officials. Both Bangladeshi and Indian sources confirmed his visit to the Indian capital.
This was preceded by the visit to Delhi of a senior executive of a TV news channel owned by Saiful Alam and the editor-proprietor of a Bengali daily.