A day after The Indian Express published a report on purported conversations between key political players of Chhattisgarh that suggest a financial deal could have led to the withdrawal of a Congress candidate from the Antagarh Assembly by-election in 2014 to let the BJP win, Rupdhar Pudo, the Ambedkarite Party of India candidate who lost the election, filed a police complaint alleging he was contacted by O P Gupta, personal secretary to Chief Minister Raman Singh, and told to withdraw from the fray in exchange for “anything”.
The only candidate left against eventual winner Bhojraj Nag of the BJP after every other candidate, including Manturam Pawar of the Congress, withdrew their nominations, Pudo alleged that “unfair means were used” in the election, listing among other things ferrying of voters to booths, distribution of “food and chicken” and other incentives.
Speaking to The Indian Express after filing a complaint Thursday at the Kanker police station, Civil Lines, Pudo said he was filing the complaint more than a year after the by-election because of “lack of action” on his complaint to the Election Commission — on Wednesday, the Commission sought a reply by January 7 from the Chhattisgarh administration and sent a copy of The Indian Express report.
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The Indian Express has received tapes of several phone conversations purportedly between former chief minister Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and Raman Singh’s son-in-law Puneet Gupta; between Congress candidate Manturam Pawar (who withdrew) and former Jogi loyalist Firoz Siddiqui; a third between Pawar, who is now with the BJP, and Siddiqui; between Siddiqui and another Jogi loyalist Ameen Memon; and between Amit Jogi and Siddiqui. Most of these purported conversations are in the run-up to voting day, in the last week of August 2014.
The purported conversations suggest that a deal was sought to be struck to make Pawar, then a Jogi loyalist, to withdraw his candidature for the Antagarh (ST-reserved) seat in Kanker district which voted on September 13, 2014. There are references to the Chief Minister’s house repeatedly in the purported conversations.
Pudo said that in November 2014, he also petitioned the Bilaspur High Court, listing exactly the same charges, including the name of O P Gupta. He sought directions for the Antagarh election to be set aside. The case is currently at the stage of evidence collection and the next hearing is scheduled for January 21.
In his complaint to police, Pudo said: “On August 30, eleven out of thirteen candidates were made to drop out of the election by offering inducements. I was contacted by O P Gupta who said that to strengthen Dr Raman Singh’s hand, I should withdraw my nomination and for this they would make anything available to me. He also said that this could be arranged at a meeting anywhere of my choice.”
When his comments were sought on Pudo’s allegations, O P Gupta said: “Mujhe dhyaan nahin hai ye baatein (I cannot recall this conversation). These are things that are more than a year old and I am not aware of what you are talking about. We have to talk to many people in a day, 200-300, and I have no memory of Pudo or any conversation. I completely deny any such conversation. Given the way this news is being covered, this is just a way to sensationalise by dragging my name in. I have received nothing from the High Court and have nothing to do with the matter.”
Pudo’s complaint to police is almost identical to his petition in the High Court: “It is respectfully submitted that on 30.8.2014, the petitioner (Pudo) visited house of Shri Arjun Singh Thakur, the national general secretary of the Ambedkarite Party of India at Nandgaon, district Rajnandgaon. On 30.8.2014 at about 7 am to 8 am, when the petitioner was in the house of Shri Arjun Singh Thakur, he received a phone call on his number from Shri O P Gupta, Raipur. While conversation over the phone, Shri O P Gupta introduced himself to be a member of the BJP and allured the petitioner with offer of money for withdrawal of his candidature. He also informed the petitioner that other candidates including candidate of the Indian National Congress have withdrawn their candidature and if he withdraws his candidature, he will be paid accordingly. The member of the BJP had given call to the petitioner 3-4 times thereafter and tried his level best to allure, influence and pressurise the petitioner but the petitioner refused to yield to his influence and inducements.”
Pudo polled 12,086 votes, behind BJP’s Bhojraj Nag who had 63,616. NOTA votes totalled 13,506.
“I refused all inducement because I wanted to show that no matter what the result, a common man can stand for his democratic right. I feel the police or the court must take action in the matter. It is not as if this matter has suddenly come up from somewhere. I have been fighting it in court all this time,” Pudo said.
R P Singh, station-in-charge of Kanker police station who received Pudo’s complaint, said no FIR has been registered so far, and that the complaint will be forwarded to the Antagarh police station. In his complaint, Pudo has asked that a case be filed under IPC sections related to bribery as well as bribery-related violations of The Representation of the People Act.