Amid the political turmoil in Chhattisgarh over the purported audio tapes which suggest that the 2014 Antagarh bypoll could have been fixed, Manturam Pawar, the Congress candidate who withdrew his nomination, said on Tuesday that he pulled out due to infighting in the party.
“I fought and lost three previous MLA elections because of the infighting in the Congress and didn’t want to fight the Antagarh bypoll. I only agreed on the condition that I would be backed by the party… But I was told after nomination that I should not call several senior leaders like Ajit and Amit Jogi for campaigning. I withdrew because I knew I would lose again,” said Pawar, who is now with the BJP.
While he spoke to mediapersons at the Press Club, local leaders of the Raipur Congress held a protest, showing black flags to Pawar and clashing briefly with police personnel. Pawar claimed this was not the first time he had faced a threat from Congress supporters since the bypoll, and was “sometimes afraid for his life”.
Hitting back at Pawar, State Congress spokesperson Sushil Anand Shukla, said: “Whatever Pawar says is because he has come out in defence of the chief minister (Raman Singh) and his son-in-law. Pawar had a hand in murdering democracy.”
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 Pawar and former Jogi loyalist Firoz Siddiqui; a third between Pawar 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, 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.
Meanwhile, Sanjeev Agrawal, a Congress worker who was known to be close to Siddiqui earlier, has filed a police complaint against the latter. Agrawal has alleged that Siddiqui was in contact with senior Congress leaders Bhupesh Baghel and T S Singhdeo, and that Memon had been brought into the Congress on the condition that he would “agree that the voice was his”.
Agrawal has furnished copies of purported WhatsApp messages, and an audio recording of a purported conversation between him and Siddiqui. “It is clear that he was blackmailing people… In a conversation with me, he admitted that the audio between Amit Jogi and Puneet Gupta had nothing to do with Manturam Pawar. I thought I had to bring facts to light,” Agrawal said.
Siddiqui said, “Who is Sanjeev Agrawal to give any opinion on these matters… I said nothing about the tapes that don’t concern me. I only confirmed that in the tapes which have my voice, the voice is indeed mine.”