Row Over 'Fixing' of Chhattisgarh Assembly Bypoll

Raipur/New Delhi
Row Over 'Fixing' of Chhattisgarh Assembly Bypoll

A row erupted today after an audio tape containing telephonic talks purportedly between Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh's son-in-law, Congress leader Ajit Jogi and his son Amit surfaced, pointing at their alleged involvement in "fixing" the bypoll to an assembly seat last year.

The Congress candidate for Antagarh (ST) seat Manturam Pawar, then considered an Ajit Jogi loyalist, had withdrawn from the fray just a day ahead of the deadline and was later expelled from the party.

The tape purportedly contains conversations suggesting money exchanged hands.

The tape purported has conversations between Amit, son of the state's former chief minister Ajit Jogi, Raman Singh's son-in-law Puneet Gupta, Pawar and former Jogi loyalists Firoz Siddiqui and Ameen Memon.

As a political row broke out, state Congress president Bhupesh Baghel served a show cause notice to Amit Jogi seeking his reply within seven days.

The main opposition party demanded Singh's sacking and a Supreme Court- monitored SIT probe into the matter, while BJP rejected the allegations, saying it was the result of "infighting" in the state Congress.

Raman Singh also trashed the allegation as "baseless" and a bid by the Congress to "drag BJP and his family" into controversy, while Ajit Jogi dismissed the charge as "completely false".

"Raman Singh has disgraced democracy. He misused his power and black money to influence the democratic process," Baghel told reporters.

"We demand that the Governor recommend to the President of India dismissal of the Raman Singh government," he said.

He also asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to set up a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to probe the matter under Supreme Court supervision.

Baghel said Congress had smelt "foul play" soon after Pawar withdrew his candidature at the last minute and even complained to the Election Commission.

"Now the audio tape has proved how the ruling party misused its power to win the election," Baghel said.

The state Congress president said the matter will be discussed with Ajit Jogi before a "complete report" is sent to the party high command, he said, adding Siddiqui and Memon will also be questioned.

In Delhi, Congress general secretary B K Hariprasad said the central party leadership has decided to wait for a report from the state unit before deciding on any action against Ajit Jogi "since he is a member of the Congress working Committee".

"As far as Ajit Jogi is concerned, he is a Congress Working Committee member and only Congress President can take action against him.

"After going through the report of the state unit into this matter, the AICC Disciplinary Committee headed by A K Antony will take a call on action about Ajit Jogi," he said.

Ajit Jogi termed the episode as a "conspiracy" against him and his son.

"My reaction was sought by the newspaper (which published the story today) about a month back and I had told them that it was completely false. I had even told them I will file a defamation suit if such false allegations are levelled against me," he said.

Meanwhile, Amit Jogi has lodged a complaint at Civil Lines police station in Bilaspur against the newspaper, claiming the tape was doctored and that neither his father nor he made such calls.

Jogi said in his complaint that the newspaper had published a "false" story and posted it on its website with a forged audio tape.

"My voice and that of my father have been doctored in the tape which would be proved after examination by experts," Amit Jogi said and demanded action against the newspaper under Information Technology Act.

Rubbishing the charge as "baseless" Raman Singh said BJP had no role in Pawar's withdrawal from electoral fray.

Defending his son-in law Puneet Gupta, he said, "My son-in-law is a government servant and has nothing to do with politics. My family and BJP are being dragged by Congress into the issue."

The state BJP also stood by the Chief Minister and rejected the allegations.

"Chief Minister Raman Singh is not at all associated with whatever has been published in the newspaper and even his son-in-law has clearly rejected the allegations levelled against him," BJP spokesperson and MLA Shivratan Sharma told a press conference.

He said the audio tape is the outcome of a "running feud" in the state Congress.

"There are two groups within Congress in Chhattisgarh. One is being headed by Bhupesh Baghel and TS Singhdeo and another by Ajit Jogi. To prove their superiority, both groups try to tarnish image of other one. This audio tape is the result of the same," he said.

Addressing reporters in Delhi, AICC Communication Department Chief Randeep Surjewala said," Keeping in view his tall promises of not allowing corruption at any cost, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should immediately sack, dismiss or force Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh to resign. The matter should be probed by a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court."

Surjewala said since the names of Congress leaders have also surfaced in the tape, their conduct should be probed, too.

"Examine the role of all by including that of Ajit Jogi or any other Congress leader's conduct. Since the Chief Minister holds a top Constitutional post in the state, he should immediately be asked to ensure a fair probe.

"Congress also assures that it will take appropriate action against its leaders after the probe finds anything against them. Congress stands committed to take action on the basis of the outcome of the probe," Surjewala said.

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