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Congress sucked into scandal

Bhopal, Sept. 8: Sex, sleaze and politics.

A sex scandal in which a state Congress spokesman is named has engulfed election-bound Madhya Pradesh after a woman went public, alleging that a journalist accredited with a Delhi-based evening paper has been raping and blackmailing her for the past seven years.

The schoolteacher, who was sacked on Teachers’ Day on the charge of bringing disrepute to her institution, approached the visiting National Commission for Women and handed over an affidavit to the panel’s chief, Poornima Advani.

In the affidavit, she alleged that eight persons, including five IAS and forest service officials, sexually exploited her after the journalist, S.S. Asthana, introduced her to some influential people.

One of the IAS officers named in the affidavit is former state principal secretary Maan Dahima, who took voluntary retirement early this year to test political waters. Dahima was drafted into the Congress and made state unit spokesman, a job that earned him more foes than friends.

The women’s commission chief has said a fact-finding team would be sent to Delhi to look into the complaint.

The victim also alleged that the city police was indifferent to her complaint, a charge denied by Bhopal superintendent of police A.P. Singh, who said a case had been registered against Asthana and the accused was subsequently given bail.

The BJP has pounced upon the scandal, forwarding it to deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani. BJP national general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan said the episode was a “telling commentary” on Congress “culture” and sought a thorough probe. BJP leaders alleged that the episode was only the tip of the iceberg, as there were several such instances in the state.

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni said the matter has been brought to her attention. She said the party leadership was going through the charges, including the one pertaining to the spokesman.

Asthana today held a news conference where he said he has become a “pawn” in big political games. He alleged that the victim had been demanding Rs 1 lakh and a mobile phone, and levelled “bizarre charges” after failing to have her way.

Asthana wondered why the police did not raid his house when they came to arrest him some time ago. He added that being a widower, he was sounded on the possibility of marriage but rejected the proposal outright.

In social and political circles, the episode has become a hot subject for discussion and various theories are doing the rounds. Some feel it is a fallout of the power struggle within the state bureaucracy, while others allege that the woman has been used to target Dahima, who was tipped to get a Congress ticket. In the din, the woman has gone missing.

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