In what is likely to add fuel to the fire in the growing tension between Congress and BJP, a string of new revelations suggesting financial transactions to manipulate candidates in the 2014 insurgency-hit Antagarh assembly seat by-election in Chhattisgarh has been revealed by The Indian Express newspaper on Wednesday.
In the by-election held in September last year, the Congress candidate Manturam Pawar had withdrawn his nomination papers at the last minute, paving the way for a walkover in the assembly that resulted in BJP's win.
In a series of phone conversations tapes received by The Indian Express, the key players purportedly setting the scene for manipulation of elections involves the conversations between former Congress party Chief Minister of the state Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and and current BJP Chief Minister Raman Singh’s son-in-law Puneet Gupta. The conversations also include chats between Congress candidate Manturam Pawar and former Jogi loyalist Firoz Siddiqui, between Siddiqui and another Jogi loyalist Ameen Memon and between Amit Jogi and Siddiqui.
Out of all the voices in the conversation, only two - Manturam Pawar, who is now with BJP and Firoz Siddiqui, the Jogi loyalist - have confirmed their voices in the tapes.
The by-election Antagarh (ST- reserved) seat in Kanker district on September 13, 2014 had come after the incumbent MLA, Vikram Usendi had got elected to the Lok Sabha as a BJP MP. According to the Express report, the purported conversations suggest that a deal was sought to be struck to make Pawar, then a Jogi loyalist, to withdraw his candidature. The conversations also make repeated references to the Chief Minister’s house.
The back story
A spectacle of intense infighting had taken place within the Congress after Manturam Pawar was announced as the by-election candidate by the party in 2014. Since the state was carved out in 2000 from Madhya Pradesh, Congress had dominated the political landscape in Bastar winning 8 out of 12 seats in Bastar region in 2013. While Pawar had lost Antagarh by a margin of 5,000 votes, the by-election win could have proved an image-saver for Congress after it was facing heat at the centre and state-levels.
In the same way, BJP, even though it ruled state for most of the time, had failed to prove its worth in tribal Bastar region, leaving the party with just 4 seats in 2013. Feeling handicapped by the absence of its star candidate Vikram Usendi, who had been elected to LS, the BJP was desperate to clinch the seat in order to give a up-flip to the image of Chief Minister Raman Singh.
Meanwhile, the shock waves of the conversations have already evoked a response from state Congress with demands of SIT probe into the matter and calls for resignation of Chief Minister Raman Singh.
The state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel has said a show-cause notice will be sent to Amit Jogi, the party MLA and son of Ajit Jogi to explain his role in the by-election debacle.
Listen in to the series of conversations here:
Feature image source: Reuters/Representational Image