Behind the string of audio recordings of BJP leaders allegedly trying to lure Congress MLAs to switch sides, are an alleged middleman and a Congress operation to “trap BJP in the act”, claim party sources.
In the 24 hours before B S Yeddyurappa resigned as chief minister in the Karnataka Assembly, the Congress released six audio recordings of BJP leaders, among those the recording of a purported conversation between Bellary mining baron and BJP leader Janardhan Reddy and Congress MLA Basanagouda Daddal on Friday night, and two more on Saturday — while MLAs took the oath of office — allegedly involving Yeddyurappa and BJP general secretary and Karnataka-in-charge Muralidhar Rao.
Congress sources said the plan to record the conversations began three days ago, when an alleged middleman for the BJP approached the state leadership.
“The middleman told us that he had been asked to find MLAs for the BJP and that senior leaders would personally talk to members willing to switch sides. We discussed this with senior party leaders and decided to use the information to trap BJP leaders in the act of negotiating with our MLAs,’’ said a senior Congress leader, who played a central role in the release of the audio clips.
“We decided to pick MLAs who are capable of carrying out the pretence of a negotiation with the BJP leaders without them realising they were being trapped,” he said.
Among the MLAs picked for this ‘operation’ was Hirekerur MLA B C Patil. The 61-year-old former police sub-inspector, who has starred in over a dozen Kannada films, was chosen to deal with BJP negotiators on account of his acting skills. Patil’s name was allegedly proposed to the BJP leaders through the middleman as a candidate who could switch sides and bring a few MLAs with him ahead of the trust vote, Congress sources said.
They claimed that while Patil was on board the bus ferrying Congress MLAs out of Bengaluru on May 17, he allegedly got calls from BJP leaders on two mobile phones and turned over the recordings to the Congress leadership. One was a purported conversation with Yeddyurappa and the second was allegedly with BJP leader B Sreeramulu and Rao.
Congress leader D K Shivakumar, who spearheaded the effort to sequester MLAs in resorts and hotels, said at least 40 MLAs admitted to receiving calls. “We asked them during a meeting if they got calls and 70 per cent of them raised their hands. Ghulam Nabi Azad took a decision and directed all MLAs to start recording calls. One by one, we caught them all,” he claimed.
The BJP, however, denied that any of its leaders had attempted to contact Congress MLAs. Union minister Prakash Javadekar had said on Friday, after the release of the alleged conversation between Reddy and Daddal, “This audio is the handiwork of the Congress’s dirty tricks department. This is a fake CD.”
Besides recording calls, Congress sources said they used the middleman to pass on to the BJP phone details of a woman who pretended to be the wife of an MLA who could defect to the BJP. They said two BJP leaders linked closely to Yeddyurappa allegedly called the woman pretending to be the wife of an MLA and offered incentives in the form of a Cabinet berth and cash if her ‘husband’ defected. These purported conversations were recorded by the woman and handed over to Congress leaders, the sources said.
“This was more like a sting operation. We wanted to take this sting the whole distance and capture the exchange of cash on camera but our leaders were not in favour of it and we restricted the operation to audio recordings,” a Congress source said.