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Union Minister, bribes, tapes in plot to topple Gehlot govt, says Congress

Following a complaint lodged by state Government Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi, the Special Operations Group of Rajasthan police filed two different FIRs, one of which named Bhanwar Lal Sharma, Gajendra Singh and Sanjay Jain, for allegedly trying to topple the government.

Written by Hamza Khan , Deep Mukherjee | Jaipur |
Updated: July 18, 2020 7:33:29 am
Union Minister, bribes, tapes in plot to topple Gehlot govt, says Congress Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat at his residence in New Delhi on Friday. (Express Photo by Anil Sharma)

Citing conversations in two audio tapes, the Congress party Friday said Union Minister of Jal Shakti Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma were allegedly trying to topple the democratically-elected and legally-established Rajasthan government.

Addressing a press conference Friday morning, All India Congress Committee Communication in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala, said “two sensational and shocking audio clips” had come to the fore via the media. “In these audio clips, Union Cabinet Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Congress MLA Bhanwarlal Sharma and BJP leader Sanjay Jain are allegedly heard talking. In this conversation, the intention and conspiracy to topple the government, through exchange of money and shifting the loyalties of MLAs is clear. It is a black chapter in the history of democracy,” he said.

Surjewala also asked “Sachin Pilot to come forward and clear his stand on ‘give MLA list’ (allegedly discussed in the audio tapes) to BJP.”

Rajasthan power play | Drama at Manesar as Haryana cops block SOG

Following a complaint lodged by state Government Chief Whip Mahesh Joshi, the Special Operations Group of Rajasthan police filed two different FIRs, one of which named Bhanwar Lal Sharma, Gajendra Singh and Sanjay Jain, for allegedly trying to topple the government. While the FIR describes Bhanwarlal Sharma as a Vidhan Sabha legislator, it does not describe Gajendra Singh either as a Union Minister or a Member of Parliament.

The two FIRs, however, said the accused were “unknown”, and mentioned charges under IPC sections 124A (sedition) and 120B (punishment for criminal conspiracy).

When contacted, Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat told The Indian Express it was not his voice. Bhanwarlal Sharma said in a statement the audio was fake.

Also read | Not part of FIR, audio clip has MLA ‘talking amount’

On Thursday late evening, Lokesh Sharma, OSD to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had circulated three audio clips to several mediapersons. Sources in the party claimed that one audio clip revealed that Shekhawat was in touch with Congress MLA from Sardarshahar in Churu, Bhanwarlal Sharma, through one Sanjay Jain, who they claimed was a member of the BJP. In another audio clip, MLA from Deeg-Kumher in Bharatpur, Vishvendra Singh, who was earlier removed as a Tourism Minister by Congress, is purportedly heard talking to an unknown person.

The two MLAs – Vishvendra Singh and Bhanwarlal Sharma – were suspended from primary membership of the Congress party on Friday “pending investigation into the audio clips”. They were also served a show cause notice regarding their alleged involvement. Vishvendra Singh did not respond to calls and text messages.

Following the registration of the FIR, the SOG sent a team led by SP Vikas Sharma to Manesar in Haryana, where the rebel MLAs were putting up. When the team reached the Manesar hotel Friday evening, it was stopped by Haryana police and hotel staff from entering. Eventually, they were let in. But sources in the Manesar hotel and Haryana Police said Pilot and his supporters had already left Thursday evening.

Read | Rebel Congress MLAs get time till Tuesday to reply to Speaker

The first FIR was regarding the purported conversation between Congress MLA from Deeg-Kumher in Bharatpur, Vishvendra Singh, and an unknown person. The complaint, without naming either, claims that a conversation was played on social media and television channels, where two persons are heard talking, and transcribes their conversation.

Citing the audio clips, Surjewala said, “Horse trading in Rajasthan is being discussed for about one month now,” Surjewala said Friday. Attacking BJP, he said that “after Manipur, Uttarakhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, they are openly playing a game to grab power.” “But this time, they have perhaps challenged the wrong state. They probably did not understand the eight crore citizens of Rajasthan,” he said.

An extract from the transcript of the audio clip, cited in the FIR, reads thus: “So he is saying those people jo hamare pass baithe, hamare saathi jo Delhi me baithe hain, wo paisa le chuke hain aur pehli kisht pahuch chuki hain (Those people sitting with us, our associates who are in Delhi, they have taken the money).” One person then asks another about “what line you are taking?” To which the person replies: “Yeah, I am taking their line.”

“In the said conversation, the persons are planning a conspiracy to topple a democratically-elected and legally-established government, through exchange of money and by spreading unrest. This comes under sedition. Hence, please lodge a case against the conspirators as per rules, and take action,” the complaint by Joshi says. He also submitted the audio clip of the conversation.

The second complaint deals with a conversation purportedly between Bhanwarlal Sharma, Shekhawat, and one Sanjay Jain. While the FIR mentions the name and designation – MLA – of Bhanwarlal Sharma, and names Sanjay Jain, it simply mentions involvement of one Gajendra Singh. It makes the same argument as the first FIR, saying that their conversations point to sedition.

In this audio clip, Jain is allegedly heard telling Sharma that the numbers – 30 – will be reached in 2-3 days. Interestingly, 30 is the number of MLAs claimed by the Pilot camp initially. Jain tells Sharma about someone – apparently an MLA – who is nervous to cross over, to which Sharma says that there is no need to worry. Jain then tells Sharma to “Tell Sachin ji not to give their names in the list.”

Sharma tells Jain that “Now I am getting big offers from Randeep Surjewala, CM, that i will get a post. I said keep me anywhere, if I leave I leave.” Sharma seeks to talk to Singh, and Jain patches the call to Singh; a conversation between Sharma and Singh follows.

A part of the transcript reads thus: “Bhanwarlal Sharma: Entire matter, the numbers will be completed in 1-2 days. Gajendra Singh: Once the numbers are completed, we will send a message from here. I also spoke to Sanjay Ji yesterday. We have to stay here 8-10 days. Now raaj (government) cannot be in a baara (fence). As soon as they leave people, people will come here BL: Yes I also understand that government isn’t run from a hotel. GS: Yes. BL: And [they] don’t have the numbers. GS: Yes, [they] don’t have the numbers.”

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has said that it is not his voice on the tapes and he is ready to face any probe. “It’s not my voice nor is it my diction. There are too many Gajendra Singhs. There are MLAs in the Congress with that name. In my constituency itself, there are many by this name,” he told The Indian Express in Delhi.

Bhanwarlal Sharma said, “The audio which has been made viral is fake. The CM is getting fake audios created and sending them to MLAs to pressurise them. It is neither my voice nor did I talk to anyone.” So far, the SOG has refused to state whether they have the custody of Sanjay Jain, and merely said that he is not under arrest.

On Friday morning, Surjewala listed five demands: the first was registration of FIR against Shekhawat by the SOG – which was registered – “and if there is an indication that the investigation may be influenced by misusing post – which prima facie seems so – then a warrant be issued and he be immediately arrested.”

Second, they sought similar action against Bhanwarlal Sharma and Sanjay Jain. Third, they demanded a comprehensive inquiry into the flow of money, “who provided the black money, where did it come from, how was it transferred through hawala, and was given to whom – all of this should be investigated.” Fourth, disclosure of “who are the people in the Central government, who are sitting in influential posts, as well as officials and agencies which are involved in the conspiracy of toppling the government.” His fifth demand was investigation of their roles.

(With inputs from Liz Mathew in New Delhi)

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