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Political Pariah: The Steep Descent of Roshan Baig From 'MLA of Vidhana Soudha' to Jail

By: Revathi Rajeevan & Deepa Balakrishnan

CNN-News18

Last Updated: November 26, 2020, 17:15 IST

Bengaluru

File photo of R Roshan Baig. (Credit: twitter)

File photo of R Roshan Baig. (Credit: twitter)

The former Karnataka home minister finds himself behind bars in the IMA Ponzi scheme case, his image severely dented and, more importantly, his sympathy with the public markedly waned.

On May 21 last year, after polling concluded across the country for the Lok Sabha elections and counting was yet to be taken up, the lull in political activity that is often seen in the short break was suddenly broken.

Seven-time Congress MLA from the Shivajinagar constituency R Roshan Baig abruptly decided to speak to the media, and went on to call his party bosses all kinds of names. He called one a “buffoon”, another a “flop show”.
Had Baig got a whiff of the party’s dismal performance in the elections? Had he just decided to, that day, vent his extreme frustration with the party top brass — and that he had been sidelined for a ticket to contest the Bangalore Central Lok Sabha constituency as he had so long desired?

The party soon sent him notices, decided to “take action” rather cautiously at first, and later, more seriously. Baig was not new to courting controversy. Nor was it news for the party that he had desired the LS ticket for himself, so that he could, later, install his son Ruman Baig as the MLA in the Shivajinagar assembly segment in this constituency. What had caught the party top brass ship by surprise were the rather snide words chosen to deride the leaders with.

In hindsight, most of the Congress leaders in Karnataka say Baig had sensed trouble if the Bharatiya Janata Party returned to power — so it was important to be out there and be vocal early enough against his party, if he had to cosy up to the BJP in subsequent days.

On Tuesday, Baig was remanded in custody of the Central Bureau of Investigation by a CBI court in Bengaluru—this would enable the agency to interrogate him for his alleged involvement in the IMA Ponzi scheme case. The scam, which came to light after over 40,000 investors filed police complaints last year, is estimated to have siphoned off over Rs 4,000 crore from people who thought they were putting their savings in a ‘Sharia-compliant’ investment fund.
The main accused in the scam, Mohd Mansoor Khan, had named Baig as the one who had taken more than Rs 400 crore from him in a video that he had put out on social media.

Baig, who had last year quit his assembly seat when he saw many others from his party do that to facilitate the BJP to come to power in Karnataka, perhaps thought the saffron party would look kindly upon him and reward him with a ticket to re-contest the seat. The BJP did that with 16 other MLAs, but decided to keep Baig out.

Baig was told to help the BJP in the Shivajinagar by-elections, without any official power or position bestowed upon him. This, after meeting chief minister BS Yediyurappa several times to plead his case. His son Ruman too was not encouraged by the party.

For seven terms starting from 1985, Baig had always had one brag up his sleeve. “Nothing happens in the Vidhana Soudha without my knowledge,” he would tell the media with a smile. “I’m the local MLA, no.”

As “local MLA” of the Shivajinagar constituency, Baig was always the presiding guest during any event at the Vidhana Soudha— that grand structure in the heart of Bengaluru which the Karnataka government functions from. Regardless of which party was in power, he would preside over public programmes hosted in the Vidhana Soudha for a simple reason— it falls in his assembly segment. And Baig took much pride in reminding people he met about this crucial part of his existence.

Despite Baig’s backhanded support, the BJP lost the Shivajinagar by-election in December 2019, to the Congress’s Rizwan Arshad who had it easy in this Muslim-dominated constituency. Arshad had always faced hostility from Baig in the past few years, with no support from the latter when he contested the Lok Sabha election in May or in the previous Lok Sabha election in 2014, though both belonged to the same party.

“Maybe he felt Arshad would occupy the space he had carved out for himself and tried to preserve for his son. Maybe he did not want another promising leader from the same community to come up. Either way, the two had never got along well the past few years,” says a Congress leader from the community.

That Baig senior had political ambitions for his son Ruman is no secret. Ruman, who calls himself a “social entrepreneur”, was often seen at government events when Daddy Baig was a minister, especially during his stint as information minister.

Roshan Baig had, at one time, even been home minister, later holding reins varyingly as minister for tourism, medium and small industries, urban development and infrastructure.

Either way, the dream run ended in 2020, the year that has brought ill-fortune for many.

For, the IMA scheme was one that took money from middle-class, hard-working, ordinary persons with the promise that they would get good returns and the promise that the money would not be used for any financial activity that goes against the diktat of the Sharia. Devout Muslims from Karnataka to Kerala had thus chosen this over all other kinds of investments, and many had put all their savings into this scheme.

“Nothing is proven yet of course, but these are monies taken from middle classes and poorer classes. And coming from that community, to cheat your own community… when those people had reposed their faith in you and they have been cheated… and I have a feeling he knew about it, whether he had a direct role or not. It is a sad reflection on him,” says a Congress leader who has headed the party state unit in the past.

The outburst against the party in May 2019 must have been intentional, and been in the run-up to avoid the exact situation that Baig finds himself in today, the leader says. He wanted the party to take action against him, and thus openly criticised it (the party expelled him subsequently for his “buffoon” remark).

But Roshan Baig had found himself in trouble earlier too, having been suspected of a role in the multi-thousand-crore fake stamp paper racket in early 2003. He had resigned from the-then ministership of the SM Krishna cabinet, when his brother Rehan Baig was named as an accused along with Abdul Karim Telgi, the prime scamster.

Two weeks back, his plea in the Karnataka High Court to quash another 2012-registered disproportionate assets case was also thrown out— he has to now face trial in this as well after a complaint was filed by a private citizen, probed by the Lokayukta in 2014.

A friend of his since college days says Roshan Baig is, at the core, a “nice enough, jovial man”, adding, “how else could he have won so many times?”

“Maybe he was disappointed with the Congress as other Muslim leaders were also growing within the party, but he wanted to join the BJP to safeguard himself in this investigation. I felt that was his main goal; he knew what was coming. But when the CD (where prime accused Mansoor Khan says he gave Rs 400 crore to Baig) got leaked, the BJP decided to keep him away. If not for that, he would have definitely joined the party,” the friend says.

In mid-November last year, when 16 other defectors from the Congress and JD(S) joined the BJP, Baig’s name was conspicuously out of the list— an oversight he tried to brush off as a “typo”.

But the BJP had clearly barred his entry from the party headquarters, sending him away many a times he went knocking. If he were a BJP MLA or even a functionary today with a membership, what it would have meant for the party or for the investigation may have been a different story.

Today Roshan Baig is neither in the Congress, nor in the BJP; neither an MLA, nor an MP. His son doesn’t hold any political sway either. The former home minister finds himself in jail, his image severely dented and, more importantly, his sympathy with the public markedly waned. And he has more than just ‘2020’ to blame for the misfortunes brimming over.

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first published:November 26, 2020, 15:42 IST
last updated:November 26, 2020, 17:15 IST