Chhattisgarh Pradesh Congress Committee (CPCC) president Bhupesh Baghel sees the alleged fixing of the Antagarh byelection as a “pilot project” conceived by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to influence the outcome of state Assembly election in future. In an interview with Rabindra Nath Choudhury, Mr Baghel says that the sensational expose portends a danger to our democracy.
You have launched a fight-to-the-finish war against senior Congress leader and former chief minister Ajit Jogi in the wake of the audio tape expose, suggesting the roles of Mr Jogi and his MLA son Amit in fixing the Antagarh byelections to benefit the ruling BJP in Chhattisgarh.
The audio tape issue has been wrongly projected as a battle between me and Ajit Jogi. I have nothing against any individual nor am I settling political scores with any leader within my party or the BJP. Rather, I am worried about the dangerous design behind the fixing of the Antagarh byelection. Winning or losing one seat makes no difference to the Congress or to the BJP.
The fixing of the byelection was a pilot project conceived by the BJP in connivance with a powerful section of the Congress to influence the outcome of Assembly elections in future.
In states like Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Puducherry — where legislature strength is below 100 — people’s mandate can be manipulated by a political party by fixing polls in five to eight seats. This portends danger to democracy in India.
Fixing of Antagarh byelection should be seen in this context by the country; it is in the interest of democracy. Those behind the poll-fixing should be brought to book to ensure democracy is not jeopardised.
The audio tape has telephonic conversations of purportedly six people, including Mr Ajit Jogi and his son Amit and chief minister Raman Singh’s son-in-law, Puneet Gupta, allegedly striking a deal to remove Congress candidate Manturam Pawar from the fray in Antagarh to ensure victory of the BJP nominee.
The manner in which the independent candidates were coerced to withdraw their nomination after Mr Pawar withdrew his candidature at the last minute, shows that the BJP had a hand in fixing the Antagarh byelection. Why has the BJP’s central leadership not taken any action against Mr Singh and Mr Gupta? This gives an impression that the BJP national leadership consented to it.
Since the role of chief minister is under scrutiny, I am opposed to a probe by chief secretary of the Chhattisgarh government as ordered by the Election Commission. Only a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) under supervision of the Supreme Court will unearth the truth.
But Mr Ajit Jogi has dismissed the audio tapes as fake. He claimed that all the six people purportedly recorded on the tapes have denied that the voices are theirs.
On January 22, we staged a state-wide protest against this, where people across Chhattisgarh were given an opportunity to hear the audio tapes. They recognised the voices. The conspirators have have been thoroughly exposed in public.
What will be the fate of the Jogis in view of the audio tapes leak?
Mr Amit Jogi has already been expelled by the party. The Chhattisgarh PCC has recommended expulsion of Mr Ajit Jogi, a Central Working Committee member, to the AICC leadership.
What impact will Mr Ajit Jogi’s expulsion have on the Congress in Chhattisgarh? Will it split?
It won’t make any difference to the party if one leader exits or is removed.
For the record, I want to say that the Congress performed well in the recent elections to urban and rural local bodies while Mr Jogi decided to stay away from electioneering.
There are rumours that if expelled, Mr Ajit Jogi may float his own political party. Will it affect the Congress’ prospects in the 2018 Assembly elections?
It is a hypothetical question. No regional party in Chhattisgarh has ever succeeded. There is absolutely no space for a regional party in Chhattisgarh as the two national parties — the Congress and the BJP — are firmly entrenched across electorate bases in the state.
You see a political conspiracy in the Jiram Ghati Naxal attack of 2013 in which 27 Congressmen were massacred. Can you elaborate the basis of your apprehension?
First of all, security was not given to the Congress’ “Parivartan Yatra”, a pre-Assembly election campaign, despite the fact that it took place in what was considered a Naxal stronghold, whereas foolproof security measures were undertaken during chief minister Raman Singh’s “Vikas Yatra” in the nearby area.
Secondly, it was not a usual Naxal attack where the ultras ambush and then open indiscriminate fire on their targets. In case of Jiram Ghati, the Naxals inquired about Congress leaders and targeted each of them individually.
Why were certain leaders let off? Why Dinesh Patel, son of then PCC president Nand Kumar Patel, was killed although he had nothing to do with politics? Was he eliminated because someone considered him as his competitor?
But the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which probed the incident, found no evidence to establish a political conspiracy in it.
The NIA has never probed the conspiracy angle. We (Congress) are currently probing this incident to establish that there was a conspiracy.
How do you rate Mr Singh’s performance in his third term as chief minister?
His third term is marked by chaos which indicates his losing control over officialdom, mega corruptions such as rice and mining scams, nepotism and gross financial mismanagement.
But Mr Singh often asserts that the Congress’ charges against his government have never been proven in a court of law.
Many mega scams are now pending trial in the Chhattisgarh high court and the Supreme Court. I have filed many PILs in this regard.
How do you fancy your party’s chances in the 2018 Assembly elections?
The polls are three years away. However, even now we are confident of returning to power in the state....