Political analysts say corruption may appeal to first-time voters as an election issue.
Just days before the first phase of voting for the 90-member Chhattisgarh Assembly, the political landscape has been virtually set on fire by allegations from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) that Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel may have taken Rs 508 crore from the Mahadev betting app promoters—a charge dismissed by the CM as a desperate attempt by the BJP to mislead voters and get a respectable number of seats in a losing battle.
Political analysts say corruption may appeal to first-time voters as an election issue and any marginal swing among the undecided electorates may have a bearing on the results, especially on the crunch 15 seats in which the margin of victory was less than 5,000 in the 2018 election. The flip side of the ED probe can be that of evoking sympathy in favour of the Chief Minister and drawing out committed Congress voters out of homes in larger numbers on the voting day. However, the timing of ED’s arrest of a man, Asim Das, carrying Rs 5.4 crore–allegedly for “one politician Baghel”–has left the Congress with a very small window before voting on Tuesday to dispel confusion and doubts about the incident. The Congress is left with almost no time to reach out to voters and explain that the allegations are “false” or politically motivated. So far, four people have been arrested, said a political science teacher from a Delhi University college.
The ED seizure in the election-bound state is likely to partially disturb the Congress campaign. If party leaders are dragged into clearing the air over the ED action, their attention may be diverted from their busy campaign schedule, said a political analyst.
In the last lap of the perception war, the opposition BJP seems to have got an edge, to some extent, as during its campaign it had made corruption in the state a big election plank, said a central BJP leader.
The ED raid against the alleged Mahadev app representative came just two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Durg and virtually coincided with the release of BJP’s manifesto for the tribal state named “Modi’s Guarantee”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also addressed political rallies on the same day as Modi.
The ED said in light of fresh evidence following a search operation on 2 November, it has come to light that regular payments were made and, so far, about Rs 508 crore has been paid by Mahadev App promoters to Chhattisgarh CM Baghel.
Calling the ED allegation against him a “big joke”, CM Baghel said on X that the BJP wants to contest the upcoming Chhattisgarh polls with the help of its “agencies”. “If today I catch hold of someone and ask him to take PM Modi’s name, will they (ED) interrogate him? It has become very easy to toss someone’s reputation,” Baghel told reporters about the ED’s allegations.
As the Congress rallied behind its senior leader and chief ministerial face in the state, senior leader Jairam Ramesh wrote on X, “Faced with the prospects of a certain defeat in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, the PM has unleashed his last and only remaining astra–ED– the Modiastra to damage the reputations of Congress leaders.”
Countering the Congress, BJP stalwart and former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh said, “Apart from looting the state exchequer, the CM has pushed the state’s youth into an addiction of betting.” The BJP promises include a higher MSP for paddy, Rs 12,000 annually for married women, the creation of one lakh government jobs and one-time payment of Rs 10,000 to workers and LPG gas cylinder at the rate of Rs 500. The slanging match between the Congress and the BJP peaked soon after the ED arrest. CM Baghel added on X that the BJP wants to contest the upcoming Chhattisgarh polls with the help of its “agencies”.
“As I have said earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party wants to contest Chhattisgarh elections with the help of agencies like ED, IT, DRI and CBI. Just before the elections, ED has made the most malicious attempt to tarnish my image. This is a political attempt to defame the popular Congress government which is being done through ED,” the Chief Minister posted on X.
Baghel said the ED has accused him of taking Rs 508 crore based on a statement of an unknown person. “In the name of an investigation into ‘Mahadev App’, ED first raided the houses of people close to me to defame them and now, on the basis of the statement of an unknown person, it has accused me of taking Rs 508 crore,” he said.
He added that if the matter is under investigation, the agency should not have issued a press release. “See the ED’s decision that after revealing the statement of that person, it has written in a short sentence that the statement is a matter of investigation. If the investigation has not been done, then issuing a press release on the statement of one person not only reveals the intentions of the ED, but also that of the central government,” he said. Baghel questioned how such a large amount of cash landed up in Chhatisgarh when the Election Commission was monitoring the administrative set-up and security arrangements in the state. Chhattisgarh will go to elections for the 90-member Assembly in two phases—7 and 17 November. The counting of votes has been scheduled for 3 December, along with those of four other election-bound states.
In October, a key accused in the Mahadev betting app case, Mrugank Mishra, was detained at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai by security personnel on his arrival from Dubai.
Mishra was accused of helping Mahadev betting app promoters open hundreds of dubious bank accounts to divert money generated by the scam. His custody was later taken by a police team from Rajasthan, where he faces a cheating and forgery case related to the Mahadev app matter, an official said.