New Delhi, India., Nov. 19 - The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to brazen out corruption charges against Minister of State for Mines Dilip Singh Judeo, unveiled in a compact disc, the contents of which were published in an English daily.
Judeo is one of the top contenders for the post of chief minister should the BJP form a government in Chhattisgarh.
He may be asked to resign from the Cabinet pending an enquiry, but the BJP made it clear it was backing him to the hilt. A decision on this will be taken after Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee returns from his foreign tour.
Judeo was seen accepting a bribe from a foreign firm that sought mining rights in Orissa. Top BJP leaders, who were taken aback by the nature of the allegation, are agreed that the party should go on the offensive and launch a full-blooded attack on Chhattisgarh Chief minister Ajit Jogi.
But indications are that Judeo will be asked to put in his papers from the Cabinet and go to the people’s court as a “victim of a conspiracy hatched by Jogi in league with Christian missionaries”.
Senior party leaders are awaiting the Prime Minister’s arrival to take a final view on the issue.
BJP chief M Venkaiah Naidu is learnt to have discussed the issue with Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani.
“We would like to take the issue to people’s court,” said a central BJP leader who is managing the party’s campaign in Chhattisgarh.
At a hurriedly called press conference today, BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi criticised Jogi for adopting “dirty tricks” to score points during elections.
In fact, Naqvi’s description of the issue as a “creation of Jogi’s devilish mind” is a part of the party’s strategy to launch an offensive against the Congress.
The BJP appeared perturbed over the turn of events. The release of the CD only a day before the final date for withdrawal of nomination papers hints at a well-designed strategy to disrupt the BJP campaign.
Judeo’s campaign against Christian missionaries in the tribal region of Chhattisgarh is being used to polarise the tribals along communal lines.
The leader has been raising the issue of Jogi’s Christian origin to drive home this point during the campaign.
The BJP’s defence is simple and predictable. BJP sources admitted that though the videotape had put the party in a quandary, it would be politically imprudent to show even a hint of diffidence in handling it. “There are many lacunae in the tape, which cast doubts about its veracity,” said Naqvi.
In Raipur, Judeo said he was being framed in a false case by Jogi to gain political mileage in the polls.
He showed a list detailing his engagements on the day, when the tape was made. “He was busy in ticket distribution for candidates till mid-night,” said one his supporters in Raipur.
But what is worrying the BJP leadership is that the impression of a BJP minister accepting bribe would be firmly entrenched in people’s perception just before the Assembly elections.
After the Tehelka episode in which the then BJP chief Bangaru Laxman was shown accepting money, the BJP’s image as a “party with a difference” had taken a serious beating.
“This image will obviously turn the focus away from the governance in to corruption by BJP ministers,” said a BJP leader.
The BJP’s strategy to focus on the involvement of Congress leaders in the multi-crore stamp paper scam and highlight the corruption issue will recoil on the Hindutva forces in the run-up to the Assembly polls.
But senior BJP leaders said the party would not take the challenge lying down and would repay Jogi in the same coin.
A personalised attacks and counter-attacks on political leaders of Chhattisgarh is likely to increase as the day for the polls draws near.