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Hit by scandal, BJP goes on the offensive

New Delhi, Nov. 16: Two weeks before the Assembly elections in five states, a Tehelka-like revelation exploded on the BJP with a video CD apparently showing Union minister Dilip Singh Judeo accepting cash.

Judeo, the Union minister of state for environment and forests and BJP candidate for the chief minister of Chhattisgarh, today denied the charge and rejected calls for his resignation.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who returned from a three-nation tour tonight, said a probe was underway. “If found guilty, he has to go,” he added.

After Bangaru Laxman was shown accepting cash in a sting operation by Tehelka, he had to quit as BJP chief.

A combative BJP made it clear Judeo will campaign and “boldly answer the charges”.

Photographs from the video CD were splashed in The Sunday Express today, showing Judeo accepting a bundle of cash from a person called Rahul.

The transcript quoted Judeo as saying: “Paisa khuda to nahin, par khuda ki kasam khuda se kam bhi nahin (Money isn’t god but, swear on god, it’s no less than god).”

The deal takes place in Delhi and is preceded by a conversation in which Rahul is heard asking for mining lease rights in Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Judeo’s assistant personal secretary, Natwar Rateria, who appears in the footage, replies that once polls are over in Chhattisgarh, “there will be no problem”. As for Orissa, he is quoted as boasting that the government is indebted to Judeo as his ministry had cleared relief projects worth Rs 9,000 crore for the state.

The BJP dismissed the charges, heaping scorn on the Congress and Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi. Spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said the party had “information” its rival was “up to nasty things”. “Our hunch was proved right today.”

“Jogi is a past master in all this. He is a master of forgery, he produced a fake income-tax certificate, a fake caste certificate and now he has produced a fake CD. His ship is sinking, so he has resorted to dirty tricks,” he said.

Javadekar demanded an Election Commission probe into the tape’s veracity. “The EC’s code of conduct is clear there can be no character assassination without conclusive proof. The allegations in the tape are serious enough to constitute character assassination. So let there be an inquiry by the EC.”

A decision on this count is expected tonight after party president M. Venkaiah Naidu returns.

In the evening, a mob gathered outside the house of The Indian Express’ correspondent in the Chhattisgarh capital, shouting threatening slogans. They fled when he called the police.

Explaining the BJP’s recalcitrant response, a source said: “It is election time and a defensive reaction will give weight to the Congress’ campaign.”

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