What explains the delay in banning betting apps?

The ED has been investigating the Mahadev betting app for two years and the Chhattisgarh CM last sought a ban on the app on 24 August. Why did the Union government wait until 5 November?

Representative image (photo: Getty Images)
Representative image (photo: Getty Images)

AJ Prabal

Aap chronology samajhiye. On Sunday, 5 November, the Union government banned 21 betting apps including the Mahadev app, following a request from the Enforcement Directorate (ED).

On the same day, the resourceful official handle of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released a video "confession" by one Shubham Soni of Dubai, who alleged that he had moved to Dubai in 2020 after being advised to do so by Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel. More damning was his admission that he had paid the CM a sum of Rs 508 crore so far.

The remarkable video confession by an awkward-looking Soni has him saying petulantly that while he had set up the Mahadev app, it was not fair that two others, Ravi Uppal and Saurav Chandrakar, had become more famous! He also says he met Uppal and Chandrakar, both of them from Bhilai, in Dubai for the first time, and claimed that they were engaged in construction. The incoherent confession also has him saying he had appointed the two as his assistants.

Baghel’s rebuttal was swift in coming. He reacted by pointing out that Chhattisgarh Police, too, had been investigating the Mahadev app scam for the past year and more. His government had instituted 72 FIRs, arrested 450 people connected to the scam, had demanded a ban on the app, and written to the Union government to issue a lookout notice against Uppal and Chandrakar. He had no idea who Soni was, said Baghel, and denied having met him unless Soni was there at one of his public meetings.

He also said that as far back as 24 August this year, he had addressed a press conference at the AICC office in New Delhi, where he had accused central agencies of defaming the state government. As many as 200 ‘raids’ had been conducted in the state by Income Tax, ED, etc. and he was certain that more raids were in the offing.

The video of Baghel’s press conference has been reposted by Congress MP and its general-secretary in charge of communication, Jairam Ramesh, on 6 November. In the video, Baghel points out that during the last four years, the central agencies have alleged a liquor scam, a coal scam, a paddy purchase scam, and the Mahadev app scam against him.

A common factor in all the allegations, he declared, was that no action had been taken against the distillers who had allegedly used fake holograms or against the actual owners of illegal mines, despite them being named by the accused. Similarly, while rice mills were raided by the Income Tax department, nothing had come of it. In some cases, the ED and Income Tax had informed the high court that the CBI would be investigating the cases, tacitly admitting that the two agencies had drawn a blank.

The chief minister on Monday expressed surprise at Union minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar’s statement that the state government could have sought a ban on the betting app on its own. “I have been crying myself hoarse and we have written to the government as well. I have gone to the extent of asking why the Union government was not banning the app. Were the BJP leaders complicit or have they sealed a deal with the promoters?”

Referring to the two persons arrested by the ED so far, Baghel sarcastically pointed to the multiple photographs of the man with BJP leaders which have surfaced on social media and the car used by him, which has turned out to belong to a BJP leader from Bilaspur.

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