P C Padhi became headlines in Odisha after a media expose on funds received by the BJD became known.
Dillip Satapathy reports.
The name Purna Chandra Padhi did not ring a bell with the people of Odisha until recently, when it popped up on a national channel in connection with irregularities in the funding of the Biju Janata Dal, the state's ruling party for the last 17 years.
'Peon donates Rs 1 crore to BJD party fund,' screamed the headline.
Padhi, who used to run errands at the BJD party office and Naveen Nivas (Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik's home), was at the centre of a media expose on funds received by the party, allegedly from dubious and anonymous sources.
For many BJD leaders, Padhi or P C Padhi, as the name appears in some bank entries of the BJD account, was an unknown entity.
Many plead ignorance about his role in the party. Some say they recall him doing odd jobs at the party office and at Patnaik's residence.
Padhi, who is in his late 30s, belongs to Amanya Sahi, an obscure village in the Purusottampur block of Ganjam district, Patnaik's home district.
Fortune smiled on this son of a marginal farmer after he came in contact with some BJD leaders in the district.
"Bereft of any educational qualification to mention, Padhi started as a small-time contractor in his village," says a person who has known him for several years but who does not wish to be named.
"He even served as the driver of a BJD minister from the district, who helped get him a job at the party office in Bhubaneswar."
Padhi held a BPL (below poverty line) card before it was withdrawn when it was found that he was building a large pucca house in his village, one of the clauses for disqualification of such benefits.
A scrutiny of the BJD's account with the main branch of the State Bank of India, Bhubaneswar, shows Padhi deposited huge sums of money on different occasions.
"There are scores of entries in Padhi's name between 2008 and 2014," says Subash Mohapatra, a civil rights campaigner who filed a PIL in the Odisha high court on the issue pertaining to alleged irregularities in BJD fund collection and Patnaik's poll expenditure.
"In some cases, the money deposited is in thousands, while in others, it runs into lakhs (one of the entry being more than Rs 32 lakh/Rs 3.2 million). The total adds up to a few crores," he adds.
Padhi describes himself as a mere emissary given the responsibility of depositing the money collected from party members.
'I didn't make donations to the party in a personal capacity. I just deposited the money collected from people towards the party membership fee,' he told the media when asked about the issue.
"The argument lacks credibility," counters Mohapatra.
With the fee for ordinary party membership being Rs 1 per person and Rs 100 per person (in case of special members), the total amount deposited by Padhi, which is estimated in excess of Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million), more than covers the entire population of the state.
"It is as if everyone has chosen to be a BJD party member in the state," Mohapatra points out.
Moreover, the maximum donation that a political party could receive in cash from one person was Rs 20,000 for the period when the deposits were made (this has now been further reduced to Rs 2,000).
So Padhi's conduct raises suspicion, says Mohapatra.
The BJD refutes this argument.
A party spokesman, unwilling to be named, says Padhi was a mere carrier of funds donated to the party or contributed towards membership.
That is why his name has come up in the bank account, he says.
Small contributions were deposited together at intervals, which is why big amounts of deposits are reflected against his name, says the spokesman.
It was, he adds, not necessary to submit to the bank the list of contributors, which has been properly documented by the party and submitted to the satisfaction of the income tax department during the filing of returns for the party for 2014-2015.