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Chhattisgarh tapes: Cong makes Jogi & son shut shop. Why is BJP silent?

Shirish Khare | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:12 IST

The controversy

  • Audio tapes revealed how Congress and BJP leaders colluded to fix a bypoll in Chhattisgarh
  • Congress has expelled MLA Amit Jogi. It could act against his father Ajit Jogi as well

The tug of war

  • Jogi\'s rivals in the Congress are using this controversy to attack him
  • BJP remains silent on the fact that CM Raman Singh\'s son-in-law also features in the tapes

More in the story

  • Is this the end for the Jogis?
  • Was the bypoll fixed?
  • What will the Congress do next?

Situated in Bastar's dense forest, Antagarh is a place where real democracy is still a distant dream for most citizens. This is also the region where the Maoist stronghold Abujhmaad is located.

The democratic process in the region seems to have taken a dent because of the tape controversy exposing the effort to fix the bypoll in Antagarh.

It has been barely a week after The Indian Express released the controversial audio tapes, but heads have already started to roll in the Congress.

The Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) on Wednesday expelled Amit Jogi for six years.

The committee has also recommended a similar action against his father and former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi.

Addressing a press conference after the committee meeting, PCC chief Bhupesh Baghel said in Raipur: "The tapes have exposed Ajit Jogi's conspiracy to influence the Antagarh bypoll elections in collusion with the BJP government. His claims that the tapes do not feature his voice, cut no ice. The politics is not run by such empty claims."

Also read: Trouble for Raman Singh, Ajit Jogi; audio reveals deal to ensure BJP's victory in 2014 bypolls

According to highly placed party sources, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is miffed with Ajit Jogi and could approve his expulsion. The former CM is a member of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) and a final decision in this regard will be taken by the central disciplinary committee of the party.

Sources say Baghel and Congress legislature party leader TS Singhdeo will soon discuss the matter with the central disciplinary committee chairman AK Antony and party president Sonia Gandhi.

The purported conversations in the released tapes suggested money might have been offered to make the Congress candidate Manturam Pawar pull out of the September 2014 bypoll. Pawar's withdrawal at the last moment had ensured a walkover for BJP candidate Bhojraj Nag.

The tapes recorded alleged conversations between Ajit Jogi, his son Amit Jogi and Chief Minister Raman Singh's son-in-law Puneet Gupta. Pawar could also be heard discussing transfer of money with former Jogi loyalist Firoz Siddiqui in some of the reported conversations.

Ajit Jogi is a CWC member. Final decision on him will be taken by the Congress disciplinary committee

Jogi cornered

The rivalry between Ajit Jogi and Bhupesh Baghel is an open secret. Both leaders have been jostling for supremacy in the state Congress unit for years.

A victory for BJP in the Antagarh bypoll would have been an embarrassment for Baghel and this is what exactly happened.

Manturam Pawar, who is currently in the BJP, was a known Jogi loyalist at the time of the bypoll.

While the tape controversy is a golden opportunity for Baghel to settle score with his bete noire, Jogi has also sought permission from Sonia Gandhi to file a defamation case against Baghel.

However, Jogi has several other rivals to contend with. The resolution against the father and son was introduced in the PCC meeting by former MP PR Khunte.

He was reportedly part of the conspiracy hatched by Ajit Jogi to topple the Raman Singh government in 2003. Khunte alleged during the meeting that both Amit Jogi and Ajit Jogi had tried to blackmail him. He also claimed that he would soon reveal proof of their anti-party activities during the recent panchayat elections.

The tapes recorded 'conversations' between Ajit Jogi, Amit Jogi and CM's Raman Singh's son-in-law

Another senior party leader Atal Shrivastava also came out full guns blazing against the Jogi family during the meeting. He said that Ajit Jogi and his son have been working against the party in Bilaspur district for long. Similar views were expressed by former MLA Rudra Guru.

Even former Jogi loyalist Ejaz Dhebar slammed the former CM. Citing his erstwhile close association, he said Ajit Jogi and Amit Jogi are in cahoots with Raman Singh and his family. He said that the Congress would never win the next assembly elections unless the Jogis are shown the door.

The way forward for the Congress

Will this rift worsen the Congress' prospects in Chhattisgarh?

As far as the Jogis are concerned, attack might be the only option left for them. Jogi claims to enjoy a mass base support among SC/STs. He may dent party's hold over this traditional vote bank.

However, not everybody within the Congress agrees. According to leader of the opposition TS Singhdeo, "Jogi can make no difference to the vote bank of the Congress. On the contrary, the party's prospects would improve with the ouster of these killers of democracy."

"If Jogi is such a mass leader, why was he defeated in the general elections by an unknown face like Chandulal Sahu?" asks Baghel.

The party says it will withstand any retaliation by the Jogis.

Also read: Chhattisgarh tapes: Congress expels Amit Jogi for 6 years

"Jogi and his son may try to play the spoilsport. But, we are prepared for that," says Congress spokesman Mahendra Chhabra.

Can BJP escape the blame?

Meanwhile, the BJP has completely washed its hands off the controversy. The party has termed it as a result of infighting within the Congress.

Chief Minister Raman Singh shifted the focus towards the Jogis and said that he and his family have nothing to do with the tapes.

However, it is hard to ignore the BJP's role in this entire episode. First of all, Manturam Pawar had withdrawn his nomination for the BJP candidate's sake.

He was welcomed like a royal guest in Raipur soon after his decision. It is hardly a coincidence that Pawar joined BJP after some time. Although, Pawar claims there was no exchange of money, yet, his ordinary house at Pakhanjur in Kanker changed into a 4,000 square meter sprawling bungalow in almost a year.

So was Pawar indeed bribed? If yes, then why would the Jogi family or Congress do so?

BJP had high stakes in the Antagarh bypoll. A loss for ruling party would have raised questions over Raman Singh's leadership.

The party had not done well in the Bastar region during the last assembly elections. Manturam Pawar was a serious contender. In 2008 he had given the BJP a tough fight and lost by just 200 votes.

How can one ignore the fact that the tapes also feature alleged conversations with Raman Singh's son-in-law Puneet Gupta?

Ambedkarite Party of India leader Rupdhar Pudo has filed a police complaint against OP Gupta, the personal secretary of Raman Singh. He was also contesting the same bypoll and came second. According to him, Gupta told him to withdraw from the fray in exchange for "anything".

It is incumbent upon the Chief Minister to investigate the truth of this matter. Still, he has not yielded to the demand of a CBI probe.

There have been several allegations in the past that elections are fixed in Chhattisgarh for various inducements. Clearly, Raman Singh could ill-afford to paint it as the inner feud of Congress. If he does not act in a decisive manner, his whole image could be at stake.

Also read: Between diary entries and Raman Singh, what's cooking in the Chhattisgarh rice scam?

First published: 8 January 2016, 12:22 IST