Mumbai/Palghar: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday admitted to his voice and content in an audio-clip in which he exhorted his activists "to win Palghar elections" at any cost, which kicked up a massive political row in the poll-bound Maharashtra district.
However, he hit back by alleging that the original audio-clip was "selectively edited and doctored" to remove the context of his statement on "saam daam, dand and bhed" to party activists.
To prove his point, he played the entire 14-minute audio-clip before the media and accused the Shiv Sena of "resorting to such low-level tactics as defeat stares at it in Palghar".
"I said it... and that is my voice. But the following sentence has been deliberately knocked off to twist it completely out of context. I am sending it to the Election Commission with a request that if I am found guilty, they can take action against me," Fadnavis declared.
In the same breath, he demanded that if the Shiv Sena were found guilty of "editing and doctoring" the audio-tape, then they should also face action for playing it in public to misguide the voters on the eve of the Palghar Lok Sabha by-election.
The audio clip controversy erupted on a day when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi completes four years, and just two days before the high-stakes Palghar Lok Sabha by-election of May 28.
In the tape played by the Shiv Sena - which went viral on social media and television networks - Fadnavis is heard directing Bharatiya Janata Party activists to use "saam, daam, dand and bhed" and win Palghar at any cost.
"We have a huge challenge before us... Some people are challenging our very existence. They are behaving like friends but backstabbing us and we must hit back. If anybody is bullying us, we must attack them. They must know that I am a bigger bully. I am firmly standing behind you," Fadnavis said in Marathi, in the purported tape aired by the Shiv Sena.
On May 8, Fadnavis had thrown the gauntlet at the Shiv Sena, the Congress, the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi and the CPI-M by saying: "Come what may, we shall win Palghar seat. This was a BJP seat. What the Shiv Sena has done is wrong. Winning it would be a fitting tribute to the late Chintaman Vanga."
Ruling ally and Shiv Sena President Uddhav Thackeray raised the hackles of the partner BJP by playing the audio tape in his public rally on Friday evening.
Thackeray, along with state Congress President Ashok Chavan, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi President Hitendra Thakur and other political leaders demanded that the Election Commission should take note of the "threatening" content in the audio-clip and initiate suitable action against Fadnavis.
Pouncing on Fadnavis, Palghar Shiv Sena leaders said that the Election Commission should conduct a forensic probe into the audio-tape on Saturday and if the Chief Minister was guilty "he should resign by this evening".
This was the second jolt for the BJP in two days as the curtains fall on Palghar by-election campaigning on Saturday.
A couple of days ago, Shiv Sena activists caught some alleged BJP workers with a large amount of cash which was reportedly intended for distribution among the voters.
The Palghar seat has become a matter of prestige for the two warring allies after the BJP accused the Shiv Sena of "hijacking" its prospective candidate, Shriniwas Vanga, son of the late BJP MP Chintaman Vanga this month.
Stunned by the Sena move, the BJP was compelled to nominate Rajendra Gavit, a Congress leader who walked into the party at the last minute before filing nominations.
The Congress fielded its veteran Damodar Shingada, besides the BVA's Baliram Jadhav and CPI-M's Kiran Gahala in the five-cornered main contest, with the BJP leaving no stone unturned to retain the seat.