Banners of Congress leader Sachin Pilot are pulled down at State Congress Office after he was dropped from the Rajasthan’s cabinet of ministers, in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/ Hindustan Times)
Banners of Congress leader Sachin Pilot are pulled down at State Congress Office after he was dropped from the Rajasthan’s cabinet of ministers, in Jaipur, Rajasthan on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (Photo by Himanshu Vyas/ Hindustan Times)

Two FIRs filed after audio tapes stir row

The Congress also suspended Sharma and former tourism minister Vishvendra Singh from the party, and sought an explanation from them about the audio tapes.
Hindustan Times, Jaipur | By Sachin Saini and Jaykishan Sharma
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2020 12:26 AM IST

The Special Operations Group (SOG) of the Rajasthan Police on Friday registered two first information reports alleging a conspiracy to topple the Congress government in the state after the party’s chief whip Mahesh Joshi lodged a complaint on Thursday night citing three audio tapes, purportedly of conversations detailing the plot.

Soon after the FIRs were registered -- with several charges including “sedition” -- the Congress demanded the arrest of Union water minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, rebel Congress MLA Bhanwar Lal Sharma, and an alleged middleman Sanjay Jain. The Congress also suspended Sharma and former tourism minister Vishvendra Singh from the party, and sought an explanation from them about the audio tapes.

Shekhawat, who is fast emerging as one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prominent Rajasthan leaders, denied it was his voice on the audio clips, which were uploaded on social media on Thursday night, and said he was ready to face any investigation. The BJP, meanwhile, dismissed the tapes as “manufactured” by the Congress, which was “frustrated at its inability to keep its house in order”.

HT could not independently verify the veracity of the tapes. The tapes were shared with mediapersons through WhtasApp from unverified numbers.

The FIR and the charges come in the middle of a raging political battle in the state between chief minister Ashok Gehlot and his former deputy Sachin Pilot, who was also the president of the party’s state unit until he was divested of both posts by the Congress on Tuesday.

Gehlot, who has the support of at least 101 MLAs in the 200-member assembly -- they are all staying at the Fairmont hotel in Jaipur -- has blamed Pilot of conspiring with the BJP to bring down his government. Pilot, who has at least 21 MLAs supporting him -- they are at the ITC Grand Bharat in Manesar -- has maintained he and his allies are only opposed to Gehlot’s “dictatorial” ways and have nothing to do with the BJP.

On Friday afternoon, an SOG team went from Jaipur for Manesar to record statements of Sharma and other Congress legislators staying at the ITC Grand Bharat. “We have sent the team to record the statements to further investigate the complaint,” said the SOG’s additional director general of police, Ashok Rathore.

“Joshi has named three accused -- identified as Gajendra Singh, Bhanwarlal Sharma and Sanjay Jain -- on the basis of the recording he had in one complaint. In the second complaint, he has not named anybody,” Rathore said.

The FIRs lodged by police identified Sharma as a Congress legislator and mentioned the names Gajendra Singh and Sanjay Jain. Though the FIR did not say Shekhawat, the Congress allegations against him appeared to link him to the complaint.

On Friday, Surjewala said it is clear the BJP made attempts to topple the elected Congress government in the state. “Instead of fighting with China and Covid-19, Narendra Modi government is working to loot power,” he said. He demanded that the involvement of others, including leaders holding posts in the Central government, in the conspiracy should be made part of the SOG investigation. He also read out transcripts of the purported conversations.

“The voice is not mine. Let the investigation happen,” Shekhawat told reporters in Delhi.

Congress chief whip Joshi, who went to the SOG office to get copy of the FIRs, said it will be good if the voice on the tapes did not turn out to be the Union minister’s. “Otherwise, it would be a blot on democracy. He (Shekhawat) should come on his own to the SOG and give his voice samples. The MLA should also give the voice samples,” Joshi said.

An SOG officer said on condition of anonymity that Joshi would be called to record his statement about the source of the recordings. Notices in this regard would be issued soon. “Call records of some suspects have been obtained and were being examined,” the officer said.

This is the third FIR registered by SOG in the investigation related to an attempt to topple the Congress government. In the first FIR, on July 10, it named two BJP members, Bharat Malani and Ashok Singh, for allegedly trying to bribe legislators.

On July 11, the SOG issued notices to Pilot and Gehlot to record their statements. It turned out to be the trigger that set off the ongoing political drama in the state, with Pilot saying that this was Gehlot’s attempt to “humiliate” him.

The BJP’s Rajasthan president, Satish Poonia, said It is unfortunate that the CM’s residence has become a “source for leaking the fake audio and tarnish image of political leaders”.

“If the tapes are genuine, why is the government not getting a CBI probe done?” Poonia asked.

Pilot and his 18 Congress MLA supporters, have been served show-cause notices by the Rajasthan assembly speaker that mark the beginning of disqualification notices against them. The MLAs have challenged the move in high court, which will resume hearing the matter on Monday.

Political analyst Bhanwar Meghwanshi said, “If the SOG is not able to reach a conclusion then for the first time in the history of Rajasthan, to settle political score an agency has been used.”

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