Bhubaneswar, June 10: The political atmosphere in the state has been surcharged with the surfacing of an audio cassette that allegedly portrays two ministers of the Naveen Patnaik government — Puspendra Singh Deo and Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak — involved in horse-trading during the Rajya Sabha election held on June 17, 2010.
The recording was done three days before the elections to the upper house of Parliament. In the audio-cassette, aired by a private television channel, the voice, purpotedly of Singh Deo, is heard explaining how a deal was struck to buy the support of Congress MLA from Lanjjigarh, Sibaji Majhi, at the instance of energy minister Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, who was acting on behalf of the ruling BJD second-in-command, Pyari Mohan Mohapatra.
On June 17 last year, the Rajya Sabha election was held for three seats. The ruling BJD had fielded three candidates for the elections but was falling short of eight votes for a clean sweep. The Congress and BJP had lent their support to an independent candidate, Tara Ranjan Patnaik, a well-known entrepreneur.
However, the BJD managed to win all the three seats as two Congress MLAs, Sibaji Majhi and Gregory Minz, and BJP MLA, Bhimsen Choudhury, abstained from voting. The Opposition parties have been alleging that the BJD had bought these MLAs. The MLAs, on the other hand, had been stoutly refuting the allegations.
The audio-cassette has reportedly revealed that labour minister Singh Deo had asked a middleman to bring Majhi to Bhubaneswar to finalise the deal with him. The middleman left Kalahandi along with Sibaji and six others for Bhubaneswar on June 14, 2010. While having lunch at a roadside dhaba in Berhampur, the go-between was contacted by Puspendra, who told him that the energy minister would meet Sibaji at a safe place near Khurda.
Singh Deo allegedly told the middleman that though the BJD was prepared to offer special benefits, including giving a party ticket to Majhi, he should not be making unrealistic monetary demands in the range of Rs 5crore to Rs 9crore as even the BJP was not offering anyone anything more than Rs 30lakh. “The talk of the party offering Rs 50lakh to MLAs to buy their votes is bunkum,” the minister is reportedly heard saying in the tape.
Singh Deo told the middleman that Atanu had directly spoken to the MLA. “He is the most powerful minister and the blue-eyed boy of Pyari Babu. Deals are not done in this manner. I know how to make a deal since I have made a number of these in my life,” Pushpendra is heard saying. Then he adds: “If you come along with 20 people and demand money, it would not be fair. Don’t have such huge expectations. I know a number of problems will come up during the deal.”
With the audio tape surfacing, the Congress and the BJP have stepped up their attack on the government demanding penal action against the ministers. “Criminal cases should be instituted against Pyari Mohan Mohapatra, Puspendra Singh Deo, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak, Sibaji Majhi, Bhimsen Choudhury and Gregory Minz,” said BJP state unit chief Jual Oram. The party also demanded the resignation of the two ministers.
AICC leader in-charge of Orissa affairs, Jagdish Tytler, said: “The release of the audio cassette where two ministers are heard being involved in horse trading for Rajya Sabha elections has exposed the real face of Naveen Patnaik and his government. It has been proved that the BJD has cheated the people over the years.”
Pradesh Congress chief Niranjan Patnaik said: “We stand vindicated. The allegation of horse trading that we had made has been proved correct.”
Reacting to the development, energy minister Nayak said: “It is sheer politics. Since the clarion call for the panchayat polls has been sounded, many such audio cassettes will surface in the coming days. The people know what the truth is.”
Singh Deo remained incommunicado throughout the day. Senior BJD MP Pyari Mohan Mohapatra refused to comment on the issue.