A fierce tussle within the Congress in Chhattisgarh grew murkier on Monday after an audio tape surfaced with state unit chief Bhupesh Baghel purportedly promising a plum party post to former chief minister Ajit Jogi’s ex-loyalist in exchange for his cooperation.
In the tape, Baghel is allegedly heard assuring Firoze Siddiqui – Jogi’s aide -- that he would be made a party general secretary that will “make him safe”. HT couldn’t independently verify the veracity of the tapes.
The conversation appeared to have occurred before the release of another recording in December last year that led to allegations that chief minister Raman Singh’s son-in-law Puneet Gupta financially induced a Congress candidate to withdraw from an assembly bypoll in 2014.
The tape had purported conversation between Ajit Jogi’s son Amit Jogi, Gupta, Antagarh bypoll candidate Manturam Pawar, Siddiqui and former Jogi aide Ameen Memon.
The alleged conversations triggered a massive controversy with the Congress expelling Amit Jogi for six years – a huge embarrassment to Ajit Jogi who is fighting Baghel for control of the state Congress.
Everyone featured in the first tape initially denied all charges but Jogi’s ex-loyalist made a U-turn a week later, saying he couldn’t verify if it was indeed his voice in the recording. He had earlier identified his voice in the tape.
The latest clip has Baghel purportedly appreciating Siddiqui for the decision and asking him to reach the office of the Indian Express – that first carried the story -- December 16 at 2 pm.
“You may give it there. Things have been discussed. And then it will come in the national media,” Baghel is purportedly heard in the tape.
Siddiqui is then allegedly heard saying he told the Express that the episode was an internal tussle and Pawar’s withdrawal was a ploy to hurt Baghel’s position in the party.
The Congress appeared to defend Baghel with state spokesperson Shailesh Nitin Trivedi saying there was nothing wrong or objectionable in Baghel’s purported statements.
“Offering any post within the party is well within the rights of the PCC chief. And what’s the harm if he decides to offer any whistle blower the party position in order to safeguard his life,” Trivedi told HT.
“The Indian Express mentioned in its first report on December 30 that it received tapes of phone conversations about the Antagarh byelection. The Indian Express contacted each person whose voice is purportedly heard in the tape and published their versions in the report,” Indian Express editor Unni Rajen Shanker told HT.
The tape row shows intense infighting in the Congress that was already struggling to stage a comeback in a state where it has been out of power for over a decade now.
The Congress has already expelled Amit Jogi and its top state panel has recommended that Ajit Jogi also be suspended, but the latest tape shows that the infighting is far from over.
In September 2014, Pawar had abruptly pulled out of the election contest a day before the final date of withdrawal of names. The Antagarh election was won by the BJP. Pawar was expelled from the Congress and he joined the BJP in March.