More trouble for BJP’s Solapur MP mired in caste row

The MP's "disciple" has reportedly confessed to the police that he had issued thousands of fake caste certificates over the years.

BJP’s Solapur city MP Jai Siddeshwar Shivacharya Swami, whose caste certificate was held invalid by the District Caste Validity Committee last year, finds himself in another row. A man claiming to be a disciple of his, who was arrested in connection to the case, has reportedly confessed to the police that he had issued thousands of fake certificates over the years.

The MP’s “disciple”, identified as Shivsiddh Vitthal Bulla, was arrested last month. He was first remanded to police custody till February 15 and then remanded to judicial custody till March 15.

After his purported confession, police raided his home and found several fake certificates and government stamps of top officials.

Investigation Officer Sanjay Salunkhe said, “We have information that he prepared thousands of fake certificates and made money out of it. Since investigation is underway, we can’t disclose any information.”

According to a senior police officer, Bulla has made and distributed at least 7,000-8,000 fake certificates of caste, school leaving and other such documents.

According to sources, Bulla told police that “he was made” to file a police complaint by the MP about losing Swami’s caste certificate. This was after the Caste Validity Committee had asked the MP to produce his caste certificate.

In his complaint lodged with the Walsang police (Solapur district) on February 14 last year, Bulla said the bag containing the certificate fell from his motorcycle near Kumbhari village as he was travelling on February 9, 2020. “However, during interrogation, Bulla alleged that he filed the complaint at the instruction of the MP and he was not in possession of any certificate on that day,” said a police source.

During investigation, Solapur Police have found that official records at the tehsildar’s office in Akkalkot had been tampered with. “In the register, the tampering seems to have been done so tactfully that for a lay person, it will be difficult to detect the forgery. Instead of scratching or rubbing any information out, the details of the caste certificate issued to the MP are added in serial format. But we could make out from the handwriting and the ink on the caste certificate… and the application about misplaced certificate. Both are almost similar. The handwriting on the application and on the certificate are matching. We are also trying to find out who tampered with the register… the  fake caste certificate seems to have been issued to the MP in 2019,” said a police source.

Swami had contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on a BJP ticket from Solapur seat, which is reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. He had defeated Sushilkumar Shinde of the Congress and VBA chief Prakash Ambedkar. The MP had submitted a caste certificate stating that he belonged to the Beda Jangam community, a Scheduled Caste.

Police, however, said they have found that the MP belongs to the Lingayat community which falls in the OBC category. “We have inspected the caste certificates of his close relatives. The certificates mention that they belong to the Lingayat community. How can he belong to Beda Jangam community,” said a police official.

RPI leader Pramod Gaikwad, the main complainant in the case, said, “I wanted to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha seat from Solapur. I had filed my nomination papers and at the same time, Swamiji also filed his papers. When I came to know that Swamiji had mentioned his caste as Beda Jangam in the affidavit filed before the Election Commission, I carried out a personal investigation against him.”

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Gaikwad said he even went to Swami’s village Gaud in Akkalkot taluka. “I found that he was the seer of the Lingayat community. He headed a mutt there and was a highly revered figure. Then I went to the three schools where he had studied. Two schools were in villages and one in Solapur city. I made an RTI application and procured his school leaving certificates. On all his certificates, his caste is mentioned as Hindu Lingayat. I then procured his college certificate from Solapur city. On it too, it was mentioned as Hindu Lingayat.”

Gaikwad said when he filed an RTI with the tehsildar’s office, he found that no certificate of Beda Jangam was issued in the name of Swami. “It means he procured it fraudulently,” he alleged.

Gaikwad said when he approached the Election Commission and the Caste Validity Committee, they issued notice to the MP to produce the certificate. “The MP, however, said his disciple had misplaced the certificate.”

In its ruling on February 24, 2020, the Solapur District Caste Validity Committee had said that the certificate submitted at the time of election was invalid and called for his arrest. The committee said the BJP MP had conspired with government officials to produce the fake certificate. “We do not rule out the involvement of government officials in this issue. We feel that fake certificates are being prepared and circulated with active connivance of government officials. We are also investigating their role thoroughly,” said a police official.

Swami had then approached the Bombay High Court against the committee’s decision. In March 2020, the court had stayed his arrest and granted him interim bail. “The court had granted interim bail to the MP. The hearing is scheduled for this month,” said advocate Santosh Navakar, who is representing him in the High Court.

Maintaining that Swami belonged to Beda Jangam community, Navakar said, “The MP does not belong to the Lingayat community, he belongs to Beda Jangam community, which falls in SC category.”

On allegations that Swami’s relatives belonged to the Lingayat community, Navakar said, “Some belong to the Lingayat community and some to Beda Jangam.. .this has come up even during police investigation.”

Navkar said he was not sure whether Bulla was a follower of the seer. “But it is true that Bulla had filed the complaint about having misplaced the caste certificate,” he said.

When contacted, Solapur Police Commissioner Ankush Shinde said, “We are investigating the matter thoroughly. The possibility of more arrests in connection with preparation and distribution of fake certificates cannot be ruled out in the near future.”

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