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Jogi gets an earful, keeps mouth shut

New Delhi/Raipur, Dec. 7: After the nation last night heard what is said to be his voice on a tape, Ajit Jogi today kept quiet in the face of an upbraiding by senior Congress leaders and a freshly instituted CBI probe.

Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee, Ahmed Patel and Vilasrao Deshmukh, all working committee members, gave him an earful at a two-hour meeting.

Suspended from the party last night, the former Chhattisgarh chief minister sought the audience when he met Patel, political secretary to party chief Sonia Gandhi, soon after arriving here this morning.

The purpose was to hear Jogi’s version of his “exposed” secret attempt to buy newly elected BJP MLAs to forestall the formation of the Raman Singh government in Raipur.

Jogi hardly spoke in the presence of the four leaders, sources said.

“Even if the BJP’s money-for-MLA audio tape is doctored, how can he even attempt to overturn the people’s mandate for the BJP so soon after the elections'” a party leader asked.

The question will be one of many the CBI, too, will ask now that chief minister Raman Singh has called in the bureau soon after his swearing-in today.

“We have handed the case to the CBI after 11 am when Ajit Jogi ceased to be the chief minister. The FIR has been drawn up against three persons. The three prime accused are Ajit Jogi, his son Amit and former BJP MP P.R. Khute who recently joined the Congress,” Raman said.

The bureau was handed the tape, three canvas bags full of currency notes worth Rs 45 lakh apparently meant for the buyout and a letter Jogi wrote to the governor offering support to a breakaway BJP government.

Jogi, originally invited to the working committee meeting, was kept out and kept away from Sonia, who instead agreed to depute senior colleagues to meet him.

Jogi, however, had to wait till the committee meeting, called to discuss the poll debacle, wound up.

The leaders’ reaction was sharper because he had handed the signed letter, written on his letterhead, to his BJP “interlocutors” without the high command’s approval.

Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy said Jogi was suspended because he acknowledged giving the letter without the approval.

Union law minister Arun Jaitley, however, had alleged: “I suspect AICC president Sonia Gandhi had been part of the deal. I refuse to believe that this was going on without her consent.”

Last night, while announcing the suspension, party general secretary Ambika Soni had justified it on the grounds that Jogi had “wrongly” involved the party chief’s name.

Today, it was far from clear whether the suspension would lead to the next possible step of expulsion. While answering reporters, Sonia refused to be drawn further than saying Jogi stood suspended.

Sources said the leadership would be in no hurry to revoke the suspension, now that the former chief minister has embroiled himself in many controversies.

Jogi himself appeared in no mood to add to his miseries by taking on the only source of his strength — his party. Telling reporters during the day that he continued to be a Congressman, Jogi regretted not taking the leadership into confidence before giving the letter of support. He claimed he had tried to contact central leaders last night.

Jogi even tried to justify his suspension in public, saying the party wanted to send the right signal to the nation about its commitment to probity.

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