Debating India

CHHATISGARH

An image of corruption

Saturday 6 December 2003, by TRIPATHI*Purnima S.

in Raipur

Union Minister of State Dilip Singh Judev, a BJP contender for chief ministership in Chhattisgarh, is exposed by a Tehelka-like sting operation and becomes an embarrassment to the party on the eve of the Assembly elections.

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AFP
Dilip Singh Judev at a press conference in Raipur on November 16.

THE Bharatiya Janata Party does not seem to have learnt a lesson from the Tehelka expose, which sealed the fate of Bangaru Laxman, its former president, who was caught on camera accepting wads of currency notes. Yet another BJP leader, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Dilip Singh Judev, a strong contender for chief ministership in Chhattisgarh, was caught taking money on camera, in return for favours to an "Australian mining company". Interestingly, the expose hit the BJP just as campaigning for the Chhattisgarh Assembly elections began. The expose, carried by Indian Express on November 16, took the BJP by surprise. Although there is no mistaking that the man shown on the tape is Judev, initially BJP leaders kept questioning the identity of the man. Judev too braved it for a while, but resigned the next day.

The reverence with which Judev accepted the bribe has become a classic instance - he first touched his forehead with the wads of money and then delivered what now is an oft-quoted dialogue: "Paisa khuda to nahin, par khuda ki kasam, khuda se kum bhi nahin," (money is not God, but by God, it is no less than God himself).

Although the entire BJP leadership, including party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, has jumped to Judev’s defence, saying that he was being "framed" and that the tape was "manipulated and interpolated", the issue has certainly become a huge embarrassment for the party on the eve of the elections. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has refrained from giving a clean chit to Judev, unlike other senior BJP leaders. In fact, it was on Vajpayee’s instruction that Judev, who had denied all the allegations, put in his papers. The fact that Vajpayee preferred the investigations to be over before he aired his comments was obvious from his speeches in the final leg of the campaigning. While campaigning at Jagdalpur on November 26, Vajpayee avoided talking about it, though other BJP leaders hoped he would. At Raipur too on the same day, he had almost finished his speech without talking about it, when a paper was slipped to him by BJP leader Lakhiram Agrawal. He therefore mentioned the topic, that too cursorily. "It seems Judev has been trapped. He will be taken back, like George Fernandes, if proved innocent," said the Prime Minister, while criticising the Congress(I) for "levelling baseless allegations" against the BJP.

Various other BJP leaders campaigning in Chhattisgarh, who did not want to be named, admitted that they were embarrassed to talk about the issue since "there was no doubt that the man shown on the tape was Judev". Interestingly, in an election meeting at Jagdalpur when Shatrughan Sinha, the BJP’s star campaigner, spotted Judev on the dais, quipped in full hearing of the public: "Oh, your face has become so black." There was a stunned silence initially, and then a roar of laughter, and Shatrughan Sinha spent the rest of his time explaining that all he meant to say was that the campaigning had left Judev tanned. But, interestingly, even Sinha did not defend Judev even once.

The Judev episode would not affect the electoral outcome to any great extent mainly because corruption has been accepted by the people as a way of life, but the topic remained the main talking point for everyone during campaigning. "Taking money is not corruption. Everyone does it. But he was foolish enough to be caught on camera," said a prominent businessman from Raipur, summing up the mood of the people at large. He added that it was na?ve to believe that an episode like this could affect voting patterns to any great extent. "Those who have been voting for the BJP would do so despite Judev. This certainly cannot be a criterion for voting or not voting," said B.M. Agrawal, a trader.

The Congress(I), meanwhile, is hoping to make political capital out of the issue in the long run, by projecting this as further evidence of entrenched corruption in the BJP. The images of Judev, the party hopes, would remain in people’s memory, like that of Bangaru Laxman, and that this will come in handy whenever the party wanted to criticise the BJP, which claims to be "a party with a difference". This strategy was very much obvious in Sonia Gandhi’s speech in Raipur on November 26. "The BJP succeeded in misleading the people in the last Lok Sabha elections. But look at the results. The government is encouraging anti-social activities, fanning communalism and there are scams galore. The freshest example (Judev) of this is in your State (Chhattisgarh) and the most worrying part is that BJP leaders are presenting arguments to justify it, to cover up the act of corruption which has been seen clearly by all of you on television. This is just another example of their bad governance," she said. She made it clear that the intention of the party was to puncture the BJP’s slogan of "suraj" (good governance) not only in these elections, but in future elections as well. If the symbolism attached to the Bangaru image is any indication, the Judev image cannot be far behind as a weapon in the Congress(I)’s armour.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

Volume 20 - Issue 25, December 06 - 19, 2003.

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