Rajasthan was on the boil Saturday after Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot claimed that the BJP was trying to topple his government.
Adding to the political firestorm, the state police, which arrested two BJP members for allegedly trying to lure away Congress and Independent MLAs with offers of Rs 20-25 crore each, lodged an FIR stating phone taps mentioned how the “Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister are having a fight” and “Deputy CM says that he will be the CM” – a reference to the power tussle within the ruling Congress between Gehlot and Sachin Pilot.
Senior police officers said statements of both the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister will be recorded in the matter.
The FIR was lodged by the Special Operations Group under IPC sections 124A (sedition) and 120B (criminal conspiracy). The phone numbers under surveillance, it said, belonged to Ashok Singh and Bharat Malani — Singh was arrested from Udaipur and Malani from Beawar.
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Ashok Kumar Rathore, ADG, ATS and SOG, said the two men are being questioned and will be produced in court.
Addressing a press conference from his residence, Gehlot attacked the BJP, saying its leaders “have crossed all limits of humanity” during the pandemic and were playing “a game” on instructions from their central leadership.
He also took a swipe at Pilot, reigniting the debate within the Congress. “Who doesn’t want to be CM? We too may have 5-7 people who may be contenders for CM and may also have the capability and talent. But only one can be CM. And then, after that everyone calms down,” he said while responding to a question.
He said the SOG has also called him for questioning and he will cooperate with the investigation.
Rejecting the allegations against his party, BJP state president Satish Poonia said Gehlot failed to manage the pandemic, including in his constituency Jodhpur, and was, therefore, attacking the BJP.
Gehlot told the press conference: “On the one hand, we are busy saving lives and livelihood, and on the other, people are busy trying to topple the government.” He claimed MLAs were being offered “Rs 10 crore in advance and Rs 15 crore after the government is toppled”.
He said this was not the politics of the BJP during the tenure of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee “but after 2014, I am seeing that arrogance has openly come forth… busy murdering democracy”.
The SOG, in the FIR lodged Friday evening, said it kept two phone numbers under surveillance “to check smuggling of illegal weapons and explosive substances”.
“From the conversation on these numbers, it appears that attempts are being made to topple the government, and preparations were completed before the Rajya Sabha elections. In the conversation, it is said that the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister are having a fight; in such a situation, the ruling party MLAs and Independent MLAs can be broken away to topple the government and a new CM will be put in place,” the FIR stated.
The SOG claimed it learnt through sources that Rs 20-25 crore each was being offered to Congress and Independent MLAs.
The FIR also placed Sachin Pilot under the spotlight: “But BJP says that CM will be our person and Deputy CM will be made a minister in the central government while the Deputy CM says that he will be the CM – this has also appeared in the conversations.”
On Pilot visiting Delhi, the persons in the conversation, according to the FIR, said “big political decisions are being taken in Delhi and things will move quickly after June 30… that’s when his stars will shine and he will take oath 5-10 days later”.
Pilot has so far not responded to the claims made in the FIR.
According to the FIR, the men allegedly discussed earning Rs 1000-2000 crore, and that it could happen only if the CM is as per their wish. Meanwhile, 24 Congress MLAs also issued a joint statement, alleging horse trading by the BJP, and said they remain “united”.
“We have clear information that top BJP leaders are involved in this conspiracy… who are trying to mislead Congress and supporting MLAs by luring them,” the MLAs said.
The SOG said it learnt from its sources that a BJP leader was trying to lure Ramila Khadiya, Independent MLA from Kushalgarh in Banswara, with money. In the phone conversations, the persons, according to the SOG, are also heard discussing Mahendra Jeet Singh Malviya, Congress MLA from Bagidora in Banswara. They said he was earlier with the Deputy CM but has changed paala (sides), the SOG claimed.
Khadiya told The Sunday Express: “I was in Congress and will stay in Congress. No one has approached me.” Regarding her name in the FIR, she said, “bade log jaane, hum kya jaane. (Big people know, I don’t).”
Malviya said the FIR does not mention that he was approached by anyone. “I don’t know these men or have ever spoken to them. If I ever spoke, my mobile number will come (in investigation).” He said he hasn’t changed sides. “One is our PCC chief and the other is our CM. I have been associated with Gehlotji for the last 30 years and Pilotji has only just arrived,” he said.
According to the SOG, the persons on the phone said their Rs 25-crore-each plan “failed” when the CM took the MLAs to a resort before the Rajya Sabha elections. Money, however, was still being offered to MLAs, especially Independent MLAs, as recently as 2-3 days ago, it said.
The FIR claimed that the conversations “make it clear that efforts are being made to purchase Congress and Independent MLAs”.
On the two arrested men – Ashok Singh and Bharat Malani, BJP Banswara district president Govind Singh Rao said, “Ashok is not an active member of the party anymore.” Malani was formerly state convenor of BJP’s Industries Cell.
On June 10, ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections, Government Chief Whip in Rajasthan Assembly, Mahesh Joshi, wrote to the Anti-Corruption Bureau, stating he had come to know that “dirty attempts are being made to lure our MLAs and Independent MLAs supporting us, along the lines of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, to destabilise a democratically elected government which is dedicated to public service”.
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