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Heads roll for Congress rout, Jogi headache persists

Three key leaders of the Congress party quit on Sunday accepting responsibility for its debacle in assembly elections but the party was saddled with a new problem: Ajit Jogi.

india Updated: Dec 07, 2003 16:23 IST

Three key leaders of the Congress party quit on Sunday accepting responsibility for its debacle in assembly elections but the party was saddled with a new problem: Ajit Jogi.

The Congress chiefs of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh submitted their resignations to party chief Sonia Gandhi at a Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting called to debate what went wrong in last week's polls.

A Congress spokesman said Gandhi accepted the resignations, virtually laying the blame for the disastrous showing on Radha Krishna Malviya (Madhya Pradesh), Ram Anuj Yadav (Chhattisgarh) and Girija Vyas (Rajasthan).

Congress sources said Gandhi was particularly peeved at Vyas, who had been repeatedly claiming the party was supremely confident of overcoming a stiff challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the end, however, the BJP not only ousted the Congress both in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Chhattisgarh, it also stunned the party in Rajasthan.

Only in Delhi, a Congress wave crushed the BJP, giving Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit - one of those who attended Sunday's CWC meet - a second five-year stint in office.

The Congress and BJP had been expected to share the honours in the December 1 elections but the results shocked the country's oldest party, because the BJP had dubbed it a "semi-final" ahead of parliamentary polls due in September 2004.

But even as the Congress was finalising the preparations for Sunday's meeting, a political storm hit it from distant Chhattisgarh.

In Raipur, the state capital, the BJP released an audiotape purported to be a record of a conversation between outgoing chief minister Ajit Jogi and some BJP leaders in which the former is heard saying he would bribe BJP legislators if they broke away and formed a Congress-backed government.

Jogi, a tribal leader, denied the charges and accused BJP leaders of trying to frame him.

But Congress president Gandhi suspended him from the party, and Jogi, who flew into New Delhi Sunday from Raipur, was not allowed to attend the CWC meeting.

Congress sources said he was waiting to meet Gandhi, but she was unlikely to grant him an early appointment. Other party leaders did meet him but made it clear that he faced a bleak future.

On his part, Jogi kept denying he was involved in any wrongdoing. He argued the BJP was hitting back because it suspected him of trapping BJP leader Dilip Singh Judeo in a videotape that showed the latter allegedly taking bribe money.

Judeo had to quit as a minister of the central government following the revelation that seriously embarrassed the BJP in the run up to the elections in four states.

Law Minister Arun Jaitley convened a late night press conference in Raipur on Saturday and played the shocking audiotape purported to be the record of a conversation between Jogi and Chhattisgarh BJP vice-president Virender Pandey.

Jogi is allegedly heard offering Rs.2 million in cash as the first payoff if BJP legislators broke away from the party and took power with Congress backing in the 90-member house.

Pandey was present at the press conference and said he had no intention of quitting the BJP.

Pandey said the first payoff was received Saturday morning and that Jogi personally delivered the second instalment -- he did not divulge the mount -- in the evening.

Jaitley said the BJP had a watertight case of corruption against Jogi.

First Published: Dec 07, 2003 16:23 IST