FIRST IN TEHELKA
By Brijesh Pandey
ON 22 AUGUST, the Delhi Police filed a chargesheet in the infamous cash-for- votes scam dating back to 2008 at the Tis Hazari court. This named Sudheendra Kulkarni, Amar Singh and three BJP MPs as accused under the Prevention of Corruption Act. While the mention of Amar drew no gasps as everybody was guessing that the wads of notes displayed in Parliament on 22 July 2008 were supplied by him, what was surprising was that Kulkarni and Sohail Hindustani, a self-proclaimed whistleblower, were charged as masterminds and two BJP MPs were found guilty of being their accomplices. For the past three years, while the BJP was calling it a whistleblower operation, the chargesheet has nailed it as nothing but a malicious entrapment.
The chargesheet is a validation of TEHELKA’s cover story (Cash-for-Votes Scandal: A Trap. And a Cover-Up by Ashish Khetan, 2 April) where it was revealed that BJP MPs Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahabir Singh Bhagore were trying to entrap Congress or Samajwadi Party leaders and not the other way around.
When this exposé was published, BJP leader Arun Jaitley said in the House, “I’m quite conscious that investigators friendly to the Congress are at work to save it.” Though the BJP is still questioning the probe, the facts collated by the police are so conclusive and supported by an overwhelming body of documentary evidence that the principal Opposition party will find it hard to contest the case in courtroom on legal and factual points.
The chargesheet destroys the BJP’s version of the case. It details how Hindustani, a small-time gem shop owner and a BJP activist, was the mastermind behind this game of entrapment, and how later he was joined by Kulkarni in trying to ensnare Congress and Samajwadi Party leaders.
The chargesheet reveals that Hindustani started the entrapment exercise on 20 July 2008. On that day, Hindustani met former IAS officer SP Gupta, known to be close to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, at the India Islamic Cultural Centre in New Delhi to sell a semi-precious stone. During that meeting, Hindustani told him that he had three BJP MPs under his influence and if he can talk to Hooda or help him strike a deal with senior Congress leaders for monetary gain, the MPs can vote for the Congress.
The next day, when Hindustani came to know that Gupta was at The Claridges hotel along with Lovely Singh (son of Buta Singh) and Aman Arora, he went there and repeated the offer. He asked Lovely to talk to Sonia Gandhi’s political adviser Ahmed Patel. Lovely refused, saying he does not have Patel’s number and cannot speak to him about these things. Hindustani had later alleged that in his presence, Lovely spoke to Patel from a mobile (No. 9899909990) but the call records analysed by the police showed that not even a single call was made or received on Lovely’s number from Patel’s mobile phone or landline.
On 21 July, a day before the trust vote, Hindustani contacted Kulkarni and told him, “Bhaisahab, do something. Over a dozen BJP MPs are being targeted and offered huge sums of money to switch over.” Kulkarni joined him to brainstorm on a strategy. That evening, a meeting was held between Kulkarni, Hindustani and three BJP MPs in which a criminal conspiracy was hatched to contact leaders of the Congress and Samajwadi Party with the names of these MPs as vulnerable ones. As part of the strategy, an English news channel was roped in to secretly tape the negotiations.
To further the conspiracy, Hindustani took the initiative and claimed he had fixed a meeting with a senior Congress leader at Le Meridien. On the night of 21 July, he took Kulaste, fitted with a hidden voice recorder but could not succeed as the Congress leader did not turn up.
Later that night, the conspirators held a meeting at 4 Ferozeshah Road, Argal’s residence. After the meeting, Kulkarni directed Hindustani to divert his efforts towards the Samajwadi Party. Argal was also desperately trying to contact several middlemen, offering them the three BJP MPs provided the price was right.
Finally Hindustani was successful in bringing Allahabad MP Reoti Raman Singh to the residence of Argal where he held a meeting with the BJP MPs and asked them to meet Amar Singh the next morning. Hindustani was present at the meeting that was duly recorded by the channel.
On 22 July, Hindustani took Argal and Kulaste to Amar’s house in a car driven by his friend Hashmat Ali. Their plan succeeded when Amar agreed to pay Rs 3 crore each to the MPs to abstain from the trust vote. At this point, Amar hatched a criminal conspiracy with his secretary to deliver Rs 1 crore to the BJP MPs at 4 Ferozeshah Road. When Sanjeev Saxena, an aide of Amar Singh, delivered the money, Hindustani and Kulkarni were also present.
The chargesheet adds that “the analysis of call details of Hindustani’s phone from 9 July 2008 (when the Left parties withdrew support to UPA-1) to 20 July reveals that he never interacted with any senior Congress or Samajwadi Party leader. What has come on record is that it was he who was offering the names of three BJP MPs to SP Gupta, Lovely Singh and Aman Arora and then he himself contacted Kulkarni.”
The MPs had claimed all along that they were approached by Congress and Samajwadi leaders but the reality was different. In his statement to the police, according to the chargesheet, Argal “accepted that he was never contacted by anybody from the Congress or Samajwadi Party to influence his vote on the basis of monetary condition. When he was confronted that on page 47 of the Parliamentary Committee Report, it is mentioned that Argal and Kulaste admitted that they have never met Ahmed Patel and that they did not recognise his voice. To this they could not provide any valid explanation”.
The chargesheet mirrors TEHELKA’s story to the minutest detail. The story exposed how the claim of Kulkarni and Hindustani being whistleblowers was a big lie.
The news channel never told the truth and saved Amar Singh and BJP leader Kulkarni
According to the version related to TEHELKA by channel reporter Siddharth Gautam, he was asked by his seniors to call a number. The number turned out to be that of Arun Jaitley, who then gave him the number of Kulkarni. He contacted Kulkarni, who asked him to come to his residence at Balwant Rai Mehta Lane.
There he met Kulkarni, Hindustani and the three MPs. After the Le Meridien fiasco, it became clear that the story being propagated by Kulkarni and gang was not true. The ongoing sting operation was not to trap somebody who was trying to buy MPs to save the government but one trying to trap anybody who took the bait of Kulkarni, Hindustani and the three MPs.
Once the sting was complete, Kulkarni hugged the BJP MPs and the news channel team. Later, Jaitley drove to Argal’s house and got a full briefing from Gautam after which he congratulated him for the successful operation. Jaitley also made him speak to Advani on the phone, who congratulated the reporter for a job well done.
THE STORY, based on the interview of Gautam and at least 10 audio recordings of Argal desperately trying to sell themselves to any buyer available, not only exposed the real facts of the cash-for-votes scandal but also exposed how the channel that was supposed to do the sting told partial truths to save Amar Singh and Kulkarni.
It was quite clear from the story that there was a video recording of the two MPs sitting inside a white car along with Hindustani visiting Amar’s house. This footage and the fact that Sanjeev Saxena delivered the money should have been enough to nail Amar at least journalistically. But the channel positioned the story in a way that gave Amar an easy escape route.It was quite clear from the story that there was a video recording of the two MPs sitting inside a white car along with Hindustani visiting Amar’s house. This footage and the fact that Sanjeev Saxena delivered the money should have been enough to nail Amar at least journalistically. But the channel positioned the story in a way that gave Amar an easy escape route.
It is clear from the probe that Kulkarni was all along being guided by the BJP top leadership. Now the logical question that arises is if Kulkarni is an accused, then what about the role of the top BJP leaders who were controlling and directing him. The chargsheet is silent on this point. The chargesheet and TEHELKA’s story also bring back the focus on the news channel. The channel never told the full truth and saved both the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.
As it has turned out, the accuser has been found to be the accused. The chargesheet says, “Sudheendra Kulkarni remained in touch with the conspirators all along and played an active role as mastermind of the operation. When the money was paid to the BJP MPs, he was also present at the spot. When the effort to trap Congress leaders failed, he directed Sohail Hindustani to divert his attention towards leaders of the Samajwadi Party.”
Hindustani and Saxena have been arrested by the Delhi Police, whereas the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate of the Tis Hazari court has asked both Kulkarni and Amar to be present before the court on 6 September. The circle of trap and trip is complete for the BJP.
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.