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The Hindu
The Hindu
Shubhomoy Sikdar

Mahadev App case | Former Chhattisgarh CM Baghel says move aimed at influencing Lok Sabha polls

Former Chhattisgarh Chief Minister and senior Congress leader Bhupesh Baghel has been named in a first information report (FIR) registered by the State’s Economic Offences Wing (EOW) in connection with the alleged Mahadev app online betting scam, officials said on Sunday. 

Mr. Baghel, who is the Congress candidate for the Rajnandgaon Lok Sabha constituency, denied the allegations, saying that they were intended to tarnish his reputation and mitigate the electoral impact of his candidacy on the Bharatiya Janata Party.

The FIR, registered on March 4, is based on a probe report submitted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which has been investigating a money laundering case related to the Mahadev app for over a year. It lists 21 accused, including Mahadev app promoters Ravi Uppal, Saurabh Chandrakar, Shubham Soni, and Anil Kumar Agrawal, all of whom have booked under legal provisions pertaining to cheating and forgery. 

Unnamed “bureaucrats concerned, police officials, officers on special duty (OSD), and other unidentified private people” have also been entered in the accused column.

Protection money

While it does not go into the specific allegations against the former CM, the FIR does mention that ”the promoters of the Mahadev Book app received protection from various police, administrative officials, and influential political figures to prevent legal action against their illegal activities related to the online betting app. As a result, they regularly received substantial amounts of protection money.” 

According to the FIR, hawala operators were used to arrange and distribute this illicit money, and police officers and employees were also used as couriers to distribute the protection money. “The amount of protection money reached police officers/employees and influential political figures through hawala operators, who then distributed it to the relevant police/administrative officials and influential political figures,” it adds. 

Corruption allegations, including the Mahadev app charges, were a major component of the BJP’s campaign against Mr. Baghel, who ruled the State between 2018 and late 2023. Days before the first phase of last year’s Assembly polls, a driver named Asim Das had claimed that he was tasked by Mr. Soni to deliver a substantial amount of cash (₹5.39 crore) to Mr. Baghel, who has refuted the allegations.

Baghel questions FIR’s timing

This is the latest in a long list of FIRs registered under the new BJP government in the State since the beginning of the year. These FIRs were linked to acts of alleged corruption during Mr. Baghel’s rule, mostly linked to existing money laundering probes by the ED.

Mr. Baghel has now claimed that the “genie was let out of the bottle” to impact the Lok Sabha polls in Chhattisgarh, questioning the content of the FIR as well as its timing.

“It is said in this FIR that ‘protection of various police and administrative officials and influential political persons was obtained to stop the legal action’. Now the question is that when no one’s name is there among these various people, then why did Chhattisgarh Police think of registering my name only? Why did they not include the names of those officials?” he asked, at a press conference held on Sunday evening. 

Also read: ED raids over 15 locations in West Bengal, Mumbai, NCR in Mahadev App case

‘Who is protecting Mahadev app now?’

Claiming that during his tenure, he had acted against those running the Mahadev App syndicate, he questioned why the app was still working despite the BJP now in power in both the Centre and State.

“Earlier, my government was accused of giving protection to Mahadev App. But Mahadev App is still running, so the question is who kept protecting it after our government was removed, [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi’s government or [Chhattisgarh Chief Minister] Vishnu Deo Sai’s government?” he asked.

Mr. Baghel also noted that Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR, headed by lottery magnate Santiago Martin, was the largest purchaser of electoral bonds in the last five years. Given this context, the BJP accusing the erstwhile Congress government of patronising the Mahadev App is laughable, the former CM said.

“This allegation is being made by the BJP, which deposited thousands of crores of electoral bonds in its account under ‘Chanda Do Dhandha Lo’ and ‘Hafta Recovery Campaign’. This is the same BJP that has taken ₹1,368 crore as election donations from Future Gaming, the country’s largest lottery business company,” he alleged.  

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