The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sucker punch that felled Jogi

Raipur, Dec. 7: Bugged phones, wired politicians, an MP who could be a double agent…

If it reads like a cheap spy story, that’s what it is with a revenge theme, or — even better — two revenges rolled into one.

When Union law minister Arun Jaitley proudly presented the audio tape last night with outgoing Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi purportedly offering money to buy MLAs to put up an alternative government supported by the Congress, the obvious conclusion was the BJP was taking revenge for the cash-on-camera scandal involving Dilip Singh Judeo.

The motive for vengeance could actually date back to 2002 when Jogi split the BJP, snatching 12 MLAs.

That, however, was only the side story in the bigger plot of setting Jogi, apparently a clever man — an IAS officer who defected to politics — up and so easily, too.

On December 4, after the poll result was known, Jogi accepted his role as an Opposition leader. Some of his associates had other ideas — if the BJP could be split once, it could be split twice.

In the evening the next day, P.R. Khute, a BJP MP who joined the Congress shortly before the elections and before the Judeo scandal broke, met Jogi, who then put off his planned visit to Delhi to brief Sonia Gandhi and announced that the poll verdict was “not 100 per cent authentic”.

In the 50-strong BJP legislature party, there were 26 tribals and they were restive that Raman Singh, a non-tribal, would be the chief minister. Khute told Jogi that BJP leaders were having a tough time pacifying them and that there could be a break. Jogi gave Khute the go-ahead.

In 2002, Tarun Chatterjee, then a BJP MLA, played defector-in-chief. Jogi waited for another to pop up. Khute, it appears, directed Virendra Pandey, a former BJP MLA, to Jogi and the two spoke on the phone.

The man to lead the alternative ministry, after the BJP splits, would be Baliram Kashyap, an MP and a tribal, with whom Jogi had already talked.

On Saturday morning, the Tribal Development Council, a body of leaders from both the BJP and the Congress, issued a statement that Chhattisgarh should have a tribal chief minister. Kashyap fed Jogi’s appetite by telling him that it would be a miscarriage of justice if a non-tribal were installed.

A meeting with Pandey, who was wired, followed at Jogi’s house and the outgoing chief minister signed a letter to the governor committing Congress support to Kashyap. The conversation was taped on instructions from Jaitley, as was one with Kashyap.

At 10.30, a numberless Tata Safari carrying Jogi’s son Amit picked up Pandey and Kashyap and drove some 35 km away from the city where the BJP duo was handed Rs 25 lakh — another Rs 20 lakh was given earlier.

Jogi and his streetsmart son had no idea that an uneducated tribal like Kashyap could lead them on to a trap until Jaitley flew down from Delhi to reveal the letter to the governor and run the tape that had separate pieces of conversation with Kashyap and Pandey.

Sources close to Jogi suspect Khute of being part of the set-up. “We strongly believe Khute was doubling as a BJP agent,” said a senior Congress leader.

“Every politician has his feet of clay and Jogi, though clever, thought Khute was his man,” said another.

Last night, as the tape rolled on TV screens, Khute was chased away from the vicinity of the Congress office and ran for shelter to the BJP, crying: “Jogi’s goons will kill me.”

He was driven away from there, too, and has not been seen since.

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