Over a year after the BJP got a walkover in an Assembly by-election in Chhattisgarh when the Congress candidate pulled out at the last minute, purported conversations between key political players of that time have emerged that suggest financial inducements could have been offered to make him withdraw from the fray.
The Indian Express has received tapes of several phone conversations purportedly between former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and Chief Minister 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.
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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. The election happened because the incumbent MLA, Vikram Usendi, had got elected to the Lok Sabha as a BJP MP just three months earlier.
Consider the following:
Jogis with Raman Singh’s son-in-law
* Purportedly between Ajit Jogi’s son Amit and Raman Singh’s son-in-law Puneet Gupta, this conversation took place in August-end before Pawar withdrew from the race. Amit is reportedly heard saying: “We have to go up to seven at least…he is expecting ten. We will bring him down, lekin ekdum se uska itna kam mat kar do ki phir wo bhaag hi jaaye (but don’t reduce his share to such an extent that he runs away)”.
In the same conversation, the Jogis — father and son — purportedly speak with Gupta and inquire about the health of Chief Minister Raman Singh’s wife Veena Singh who, records show, was in the United States for medical treatment at the time. In the conversation, Amit purportedly refers to Veena Singh as “Aunty” and Gupta addresses Amit Jogi as “Bhaiya” and greets Ajit Jogi saying “Pranam Uncleji”.
Ajit Jogi asks Gupta to “settle the issue soon”. He also asks when is “CM Sahab” scheduled to return and Gupta replies “28th-29th”. Singh, records show, reached Raipur on September 2, days after he landed in India — the bypoll election was on September 13.
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‘Ab to samaan dena padega’
* On August 29, the day Pawar withdrew his candidature, Siddiqui purportedly tells Amit Jogi: “…he has received a phone from the CM House… and he has been told to remain near the bungalow of Rajesh Moonat (a minister close to Raman Singh whose house is nearby)”. It’s not clear who Siddiqui is referring to as “he”.
Amit Jogi says: “Rajesh Moonat ke bangle ke andar ghus jaaye (ask him to enter the bungalow of Rajesh Moonat). Make him speak to Moonat”.
* On the same day, Amit Jogi is purportedly heard telling Siddiqui: “He has now reached the Collectorate. Ab to samaan dena padega na (the item has to be delivered now)”. Siddiqui purportedly replies: “The deal is done. I have made him speak to the Big Boss. Payment manga liya hai. (Payment is coming),” to which Amit says: “Usse kuch nahi hota..kuch dena chalu karo (That doesn’t mean anything. Start giving something).”
Siddiqui then purportedly says that “they have said that Char baje yahan payment pahunch jayega, Raipur (payment will Raipur reach at four). Some alcohol contractor is bringing it”.
Amit purportedly says that “it doesn’t matter who’s bringing it….usse bolo ki de raha hai”.
Siddiqui then purportedly urges Amit that “You only convince Ameen that tera paisa yahan ho raha hai, paisa tera aa raha hai, mil jayega. (Convince Ameen that his money is being arranged, his money is coming and he will get it).
Amit purportedly responds that “We can’t say that unless you show him something.”
* In another conversation on the same day, Amit purportedly tells Siddiqui, “Call Ameen separately and tell him that tereko pachees aur kar denge, 75 ho jayega tera (we will do 25 more for him, and his will become 75).”
Amit then purportedly tells Siddiqui: “You call him (Ameen) right now that don’t make it too much at the moment, we are creating pressure on them. If (they) are taking time then we can also increase the amount”. But the “payment” appears to have been delayed and in another conversation an angry Ameen Memon purportedly tells Siddiqui: “Ask them to stuff the money… We will now show them… We are now contesting the election. Tell Amit Bhaiya, Jogiji that we are contesting the election.”
Memon is purportedly heard hurling abuses, blaming Raman Singh for the “delay” in payment. Siddiqui tells him: “His wife has become serious and was in the operation theatre”.
‘I am getting 50 for you’
* A little after the name withdrawal, Memon purportedly asks Siddiqui: “how much was for you…in the current setting?” Memon then says that “I am getting 50 for you”. After some discussion, Siddiqui replies: “Ameen Bhai…I do not need 50, I do not even need 50 rupees.”
* After the election, Pawar and Siddiqui purportedly discuss that he (Pawar) received very little, and ended up losing face. Pawar is heard saying: “Twice I directly spoke to CM Sahab. I had never spoken to the CM in this matter, it was always through some third person”.
Pawar also purportedly says: “Kuch nahi mila bhaiya, kuch nahi mila. Chhut put...(I got nothing, bhaiya. I got nothing. Very small).”
Siddiqui is then purportedly heard asking: “Nahi mila pura paisa na? (You didn’t receive the full amount, right?” to which Pawar replies: “Kahan milaa”.
Pawar also purportedly refers to a conversation with Amit Jogi: “I told Chhota (Amit Jogi) that aamne saamne kar do mera (organise a face-to-face). Make me sit with the CM, what all transpired between you and him about my case.”
Pawar purportedly goes on to say he would have won easily but withdrew his candidature because of the Jogis: “…trusted them so much, trusted you people”. He tells Siddiqui “irrespective of the amount the CM spent, people would have voted me. I left from such a situation. Now I belong neither here nor there… I have suffered a loss, I can also inflict a loss… I can also roar. I can also come out in the open. If I show my colours…”
Pawar withdrew from the race on August 29 — the last date for withdrawal was August 30 — and he was expelled by the Congress days later. The Congress asked the Election Commission to countermand the bypoll alleging that the BJP had “purchased” the candidate. BJP’s Bhojraj Nag eventually emerged victorious with 63,616 votes — Pawar withdrew along with 10 Independents. Nag’s only rival was a candidate from the Ambedkaratie Party of India who got barely 12086 votes, less than 13,506 NOTA votes. In March this year, Pawar joined the BJP.
What bypoll meant for Cong, BJP
Congress: In the 2013 assembly elections, Congress had won 8 of the 12 seats in Bastar. Manturam Pawar lost Antagarh by mere 5171 votes. Victory in the by-poll would have confirmed Congress hold in the region. It was also the first assembly election for PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel. The rival Jogi camp wanted him to lose, and pitch their candidate for the post. After Pawar’s sudden withdrawal, Ajit Jogi had attacked the PCC leadership, blaming it for the debacle.
BJP: A party that had won 11 of the 12 seats in 2003 and 2008 elections in Bastar was reduced to just 4 in 2013, confirming the tribal sentiment against the government. In the by-poll the party was also without its star candidate Vikram Usendi, who had been elected to LS, and had a weak nominee in Bhojraj Nag. The loss of another seat would have badly hit Raman Singh’s image.