Barely days after the Congress sought an explanation from him and his son following The Indian Express report on purported tapes that seemed to suggest the Antagarh bypoll in 2014 could have been fixed, former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi went on the offensive today.
He said he had written a letter to Congress president Sonia Gandhi asking for permission to sue his own party’s state president Bhupesh Baghel for defamation. In the aftermath of the purported tapes that indicate financial inducements may have been offered to get the Congress candidate to withdraw, Jogi said Baghel had cast aspersions on his character.
Baghel had, incidentally, threatened to expel Jogi’s son Amit Jogi if he did not explain the tapes.
Today was essentially a show of strength in the faction-riven state Congress. At his Raipur home, Jogi, with seven Congress MLAs at his side, said that he had written a second letter to Sonia detailing a “conspiracy” against him which included both “state and national leaders”.
“The Pradesh Congress president (Baghel) is meant to be the most responsible Congress politician, and he has made many statements that are in violation of the Congress constitution. He has defamed my character without any investigation of the tapes… Even AICC spokesperson Randeep Surjewala has called for an enquiry first and has ascribed no truth to these audio recordings,” said Jogi.
The Indian Express has received tapes of several phone conversations purportedly between 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, 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.
When contacted for his response to Jogi’s claims, Baghel declined to comment.
Said Shailesh Nitin Trivedi, spokesperson for the Pradesh Congress: “There are 39 elected MLAs from the Congress in Chhattisgarh (in a House of 90). If there are a few MLAs sitting with him, that does not show any great discord within the party. This can also be taken up for consideration, but there is a bigger matter at hand which is being looked at.”
Jogi also launched a strong attack on Sddiqui, considered a former aide to the Jogi family, whose voice was one of the six on the audio tapes, and he had admitted that it was his own. “The Indian Express reported that two people have admitted their voices on the tape. That is a lie. Manturam Pawar (the Congress candidate who dropped out of the election) has said repeatedly that the voice is not his. The other man is Firoz Siddiqui, who is convicted in the murder of Ramavtar Jaggi, and is out on bail… He runs a news portal in which 99 per cent of the content attempts to defame the Congress. There are even posts against Congress president Sonia Gandhi which say unspeakable things. How can allegations of this nature be levelled by a man who cannot be trusted?” Jogi said.
On Saturday, MLA Amit Jogi, whose voice also appears on the purported tapes, had called Siddiqui a “blackmailer”. His father reiterated that stance on Sunday, adding that there was something “much larger to the conspiracy.”
Jogi claimed that since September, Siddiqui had sent Amit Jogi 23 text messages saying that “some ‘BB’ cannot wait any longer and wants ‘books’, and if these were not to be given to him, he would have to take steps… What these ‘books’ are, and who ‘BB’ is, has to be investigated.”
Responding to these allegations, Siddiqui said, “If I was a blackmailer, why did they keep me so close to them? I have never blackmailed Amit Jogi. When I few from Raipur to Delhi, Amit Jogi used to fund my tickets.”
At the press conference, Jogi also played an audio recording, which he repeatedly said he believed was doctored, which purportedly contained the voice of Siddiqui telling others of a “two-and-a half-hour meeting” with Rahul Gandhi. “If this meeting is correct, and senior leaders have made a man like Firoz Siddiqui meet the Congress vice president, then he is being misled. However I believe that this tape too is doctored and fabricated and it is something that has appeared on the social media,” he said.
The former CM said that both he and his son were open to investigation by anybody. “Whichever agency needs to conduct the investigation, it must be conducted. We are ready for anything including narco tests. Surjewala has spoken of a sitting Supreme Court judge looking into the matter and we are open to that. The entire chain of events must be looked at,” he said.
In an apparent reference to himself, he said that there were elements in the Congress that were out to “finish” tribal and Adivasi leaders and were trying to attack “the one leader who has the love and affection of the people of Chhattisgarh.”
Jogi said that The Indian Express had not vouched for the authenticity of the tapes. “Tomorrow, like Amit Jogi has already done, I will file a case of defamation, a suit for civil damages, and violations of the IT Act against the paper,” he said.
The newspaper had contacted every person whose voice figured on the tapes. Siddiqui and Pawar had confirmed the voices were theirs. Amit Jogi had sent a “cease and desist” notice to the paper saying the tapes were doctored and Ajit Jogi and Raman Singh denied any role.