JAIPUR: Congress chief whip in the Rajasthan Assembly Mahesh Joshi, who had refused to appear before the Delhi Police Crime Branch in connection with a phone tapping case lodged on a complaint by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, on Thursday called the Union minister a "fugitive", a remark that invited a sharp reaction from the BJP.
"Union minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat is running away from giving voice sample to the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Rajasthan in connection with the audio tapes. If he is clean, then why is he running away? He is a fugitive on moral grounds. He should appear before the ACB and give a voice sample," the ruling party's leader told reporters outside the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) office here.
Following his remarks, the Congress leader's supporters started shouting slogans against Shekhawat, calling him a 'bhagoda' (fugitive).
Reacting to it sharply, BJP state president Satish Poonia said that Congressmen might have remembered their ancestors and hence raised the slogans.
"Whenever there was a struggle in the country, Congress leaders played the role of fugitives. Today, the Congressmen probably might have remembered their ancestors and therefore raised the slogan," he said at the BJP headquarters.
He said that Congress leaders are touching a new low in politics in the state.
"No one becomes a fugitive because of slogans. It is their frustration and guilt that is coming to the fore. Earlier, there used to be ideological fights in politics in the state but now the Congress is touching a new low. The Congressmen know that they are not going to retain power in the state," Poonia said.
On the other hand, Joshi has sent a reply to the notice sent by the Delhi Police Crime Branch, which had asked him to appear before it on Thursday.
"I have refused to appear before the Crime Branch citing personal reasons. The matter related to the jurisdiction of the case is pending before a court in Delhi, and hence no action should be taken by the Crime Branch before the jurisdiction is decided by the court," he said.
The Crime Branch had sent the notice to Joshi, asking him to appear before it on June 24 for questioning in the phone tapping case lodged on a complaint by Shekhawat.
The Congress leader said he was not named in the FIR that was registered in March this year by the Delhi Police against the Officer on Special Duty (OSD) to the Rajasthan chief minister, Lokesh Sharma, on the complaint by Shekhawat, who is also the BJP MP from Jodhpur.
Sharma had allegedly circulated purported audio clips of the conversation about toppling the state government.
On the basis of the audio clips, Joshi had registered cases with the Special Operations Group (SOG) and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) of the Rajasthan Police in July last year but the FIR did not mention that Gajendra Singh referred to in the clip was Union minister Shekhawat.
The phone-tapping controversy erupted in July last year in Rajasthan.
Audio clips of alleged telephonic conversations between Shekhawat and Congress leaders surfaced amidst a rebellion against Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot by his then deputy Sachin Pilot and 18 party MLAs supporting him.
Congress leaders of Gehlot's camp had alleged that BJP leaders were indulging in horse-trading to topple the state government.
The Delhi Police had registered the case on Shekhawat's complaint against Sharma, and others on charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and unlawfully intercepting telegraphic signals (telephonic conversation).
Sharma has also rejected the allegations.
The OSD had approached the Delhi High Court seeking quashing of the FIR against him.
Earlier this month, the court asked the Delhi Police not to take any coercive action against Sharma till the next date of hearing -- August 6.