Why no arrest of Mahadev app promoters? Congress hits back at Smriti Irani's hawala allegations
Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the Modi-Shah-Sitharaman "financial masterclass" had decided to legalise all online betting in India
The Congress on Saturday hit back at Union minister Smriti Irani after she accused the grand old party of using 'hawala' money supplied by betting scam operators to fund its assembly election campaign in Chhattisgarh.
The remarks from the Congress leaders came after Irani, addressing a press conference at the party headquarters in Delhi, accused Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel of fighting the polls not with support from the people, but from hawala and betting operators.
"Satta (power) mein rah kar satta (betting) ka khel khela hai (Baghel has played the game of betting while in power)," she said, adding that an ongoing Enforcement Directorate (ED) probe is based on details of investigations by police in Chhattisgarh as well as Andhra Pradesh, and asked if Baghel is putting his own government in the dock.
In response, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said the Modi-Shah-Sitharaman "financial masterclass" 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 Mahadev App and it will continue operating freely. This also provides a platform for BJP to push their political propaganda through investigating agencies. They are reluctant to arrest the kingpins, fearing the funding will stop,” he said.
The reference here is to the Mahadev betting application, which was allegedly used for money-laundering in Chhattisgarh, according to the ED. The company, promoted by Sourabh Chandrakar and Ravi Uppal, was allegedly using an online betting application to enrol new users, create IDs, and launder money through a layered web of benami (proxy) bank accounts, the ED said.
Though the ED investigation revealed that the Mahadev Online Book App is run from a central head office in the United Arab Emirates, the company promoters are originally from Bhilai in Chhattisgarh, and the Mahadev online book betting application is reportedly an umbrella syndicate arranging online platforms to enable illegal betting websites.
Hitting back at Irani, Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said, "She has information that is not filed in the charge sheet, or in court, or in the public domain, but a sitting minister knows about it. This alliance which I talked about has been proven."
Citing the probe, Irani had said more than Rs 64 crore protection money was given to authorities by illegal betting operators. There are voice messages and statements by the accused linking the use of betting money to the Congress campaign in the state and kickbacks given to Baghel, she claimed.
Singhvi said the case came to light 18 months ago, and all documents are available. “With less than five days left for elections for the first phase, why does she have to do a press conference? Everyone knows the truth, they should not think that people are fools."
Meanwhile, Ramesh said on 24 August, the chief minister had demanded a ban on Mahadev App, and the arrest of its two promoters. “I want to ask Irani, what happened to the demand with the Central government? Why was the demand not met? You did not ban the app or arrest the promoters,” the Congress MP said.
To another question, Singhvi said, "The state government took up this issue. Chhattisgarh government took action in the last one-and-a-half years. Irani has taken up the issue today and has information which is not in public domain? This exposes them."
Congress general secretary KC Venugopal said, "Police took action and also issued a lookout notice on 22 June, 2023 against the promoters of the mobile app. Has Centre made attempts to arrest them? State police had made several arrests."
He went on to ask if before this, the ED made any seizures. "Actually, the main culprit is you (BJP). We are investigating and arresting the culprits. They know that Chhattisgarh is going to be one-sided election, thus they are using the weapon of ED to tarnish the image of the government. We are now talking about caste census, OBC upliftment. Baghel is more popular on governance. This target of BJP is not going to be fulfilled,” Venugopal added.
Ramesh also said the BJP has targeted the two OBC chief ministers of the Congress — in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
“The BJP is issueless in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh owing to the schemes. All the schemes have been popular and on that basis, we are asking for a mandate and we will get it. But at the last moment, the BJP and the prime minister have only one aim — to tarnish the image of the party and its leaders. People know what Congress has done in five years."
Taking a swipe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Ramesh said, "Now, BJP is also using the guarantee word. Now they are saying it is PM's guarantee. Earlier, he was king of U-turns. Modi ji has now become a copycat prime minister. Earlier, they used to say revdi, now he (Modi) himself is copying the guarantees of Congress. They are not calling it BJP's guarantee, they are calling it Modi's guarantee.”
Singhvi also hit out at the BJP government at the Centre and said, “Recently, ED has filed a charge sheet in court, which says no incriminating evidence has been found from all these people. So it was very clear that ED is conducting all these raids based on hearsay or so-called statements by some arrested people."