New Delhi, Nov 4 (PTI) The Congress alleged on Saturday that the imminent defeat of the BJP in the Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan Assembly polls has forced it to use its last weapon, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), to reverse its fortunes and said the claims made by the federal agency against Bhupesh Baghel are part of a "conspiracy" hatched by the saffron party to tarnish his image.
It also alleged that the ED and its "overlords" circled the aides of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Baghel like "rabid dogs" in order to reach him and asserted that the people of the state would give a befitting reply to such tactics in the upcoming Assembly poll.
The Congress said it will raise the issue with the Election Commission (EC) that the ED raids are being conducted during the poll process, when the Model Code of Conduct is in force, and claimed that it is a clear "violation" of the rules as it disturbs the level-playing field.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress general secretaries K C Venugopal and Jairam Ramesh, along with Abhishek Singhvi, said the party is exploring all legal options in this regard.
Ramesh claimed that with the defeat of the BJP in the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh Assembly polls certain, the saffron party is misusing central agencies, such as the ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
"The people of Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have faith in the Congress. The BJP is indulging in vendetta politics," he said.
Another Congress leader, K C Venugopal, said there is a clear-cut conspiracy to tarnish Baghel's image, adding that people will give a befitting reply to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming polls.
He also claimed that whenever the BJP faces electoral defeats and sees its ground slipping from under its feet, it has only one weapon to use and that is the ED.
"This is a clear-cut conspiracy hatched by the prime minister to tarnish the image of Bhupesh Baghel and the Chhattisgarh government for winning this election," Venugopal alleged, claiming that all this is being done as the Chhattisgarh election is going to be one-sided in favour of the Congress and Baghel comes from an Other Backward Classes (OBC) background.
He also claimed that while the Chhattisgarh government has registered 70 FIRs, arrested 450 people and seized several mobile phones and cash worth crores from those involved with the Mahadev app scam, the BJP-led Centre has not taken any action against the kingpins of the betting app who are operating from Dubai.
Venugopal said the Chhattisgarh government has frozen bank accounts with an estimated value of Rs 16 crore and the first case was registered on March 30, 2022. It also conducted raids in Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Delhi and other states to arrest several people, he said, questioning why the Centre has not arrested any of the masterminds of the app.
"It is important to understand the modus operandi of the ED and its overlords. To reach Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel by hook or crook, they circled like rabid dogs anyone close to him," the Congress said in a statement, adding that the ED raided the houses of the chief minister's political advisor Vinod Verma, two OSD's -- Manish Banchor and Ashish Verma -- and close friend Vijay Bhatia.
"These raids are without application of mind, baseless and so politically motivated that they do not follow any rules, neither legal nor moral.... Despite these raids, cruel and inhumane behaviour, and mindless investigation, they found nothing significant linking either them or the chief minister to the Mahadev app. It was politically motivated from the beginning," the statement said.
"It is very clear that the ED is conducting all these raids based on hearsay or 'so-called' statements by some arrested people. These politically-motivated raids were conducted on the basis of the statement of one of the arrested people.
"One of the premier investigating agencies of the largest democracy in the world has sent out a press release, accusing a chief minister of an election-bound state and allowing a public and media trial with this accusation. The ED has very conveniently saved themselves from legal action by adding 'subject to investigation'. It all adds up to one thing, this investigation is not by the ED, but by the Mahadev app funded by the BJP," the statement said.
Daring the ED to arrest Saurabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, the masterminds of the Mahadev app, and ban the betting app, Venugopal said if the agency is so concerned about money laundering, it should stop it at the source.
Asked whether the raids would have any impact on the upcoming elections, he said people have already seen through the BJP and made up their mind. "We will get the maximum majority. Our majority will actually increase," Venugopal asserted.
"The ED's aim is not to save public money, their aim is to act out of political malice to please the boss. So instead of arresting the masterminds, the ED will keep taking mindless action against the opposition so that the Bharatiya Janata Party can get some political benefits," the statement said.
Singhvi said the Chhattisgarh Police had learnt that Uppal and Chandrakar, who hail from the state, are operating the app from Dubai and issued a lookout notice for the duo in July. But due to jurisdictional limitations of the state police, the Chhattisgarh government had approached the Centre and its agencies to arrest the absconding accused from Dubai.
Condemning the raids, Singhvi also accused the ED, BJP and central government of strengthening their "partnership, coalition and cooperation" during election times and when the saffron party's defeat is imminent.
He said the Chhattisgarh government had requested the relevant authorities at the Centre to ban the Mahadev app and put a stop to all its operations in the country, but no action was taken and the app is still operational.
"The Modi-Shah-Sitaraman financial masterclass has decided to legalise all online betting in India and levied 28 per cent GST on these unscrupulous activities. Looking at the operational status of the alleged criminal Mahadev app, it is our belief that the BJP has been funded by the app to continue operating freely. This also provides a platform to the BJP to push its political propaganda through investigating agencies," the Congress leader said, alleging that the Centre is reluctant to arrest the kingpins of the app, fearing that the funding will stop.
He also claimed that the ED conveniently converted the probe from a criminal investigation initiated by the state police into a politically-motivated one and since then, it has been circling around bureaucrats, politicians and politically-affiliated people.
They have now reached the stage that they had aimed for -- to defame the Congress government in Chhattisgarh and target Baghel, Singhvi said.
Ramesh said during a press briefing at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters here on August 24, Baghel demanded a ban on the Mahadev app and arrest of those operating it.
"When the BJP comes out openly in the ED's defence, their partnership, collusion and political misuse of agencies in Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan become clear. The EC should take cognisance of this. The trust remains intact, a Congress government once again," Ramesh said.
The ED claimed on Friday that a forensic analysis and a statement made by a "cash courier" have led to "startling allegations" that the Mahadev betting app promoters have so far paid about Rs 508 crore to Baghel and that "these are a subject matter of investigation".
The BJP accused the Congress on Saturday of using "hawala" money brought by illegal betting operators to fund its poll campaign in Chhattisgarh, as it targeted Baghel over the allegation that he received kickbacks to the tune of more than Rs 500 crore. PTI ASK/SKC RC