The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal jumps to Judeo probe
- Minister steps down, CBI steps in

New Delhi, Nov. 17: Forced to hit the ground running from Damascus close to midnight, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee displayed this evening a “voluntary resignation” by Dilip Singh Judeo and delivered a lightning announcement of a CBI probe into the cash-on-disc scandal.

Asked about the likely impact of the storm on the round-the-corner Assembly polls, Vajpayee said: “That will be known after the counting of votes.”

But the BJP was already squirming under a feeling made all too familiar by the Tehelka scandal. In a throwback to the defence scam days, television channels today kept strafing drawing rooms with ghostly images from the compact disc.

The VCD purportedly shows the just-resigned Union minister of state for environment and forests — and the BJP’s favourite for Chhattisgarh chief ministership — accepting cash from a man who appears to be acting on behalf of a foreign mining company.

Asked whether he had seen the footage, the Prime Minister said: “Saaf nahi hai (It is not clear).”

But it was crystal clear that his government wanted to take few chances. The Prime Minister, who returned from a week-long foreign tour only last night, set a frenetic pace. (See chart)

At the airport itself, Vajpayee said Judeo will have to go, “if found guilty” — in sharp contrast to a BJP bid to brazen out the storm that broke on Sunday morning when a Delhi daily splashed the news.

Less than 24 hours after he landed, Vajpayee told reporters on the sidelines of an iftar hosted by minister Shahnawaz Hussain: “There will be a probe and the CBI has been entrusted with it.”

Officialdom matched the alacrity of the political establishment — the inquiry notice from the cabinet secretariat reached the CBI within a few hours and the agency started collecting material soon after. Judeo said in Raipur he had resigned on “moral grounds”.

BJP sources, too, stressed that Judeo had not quit “under pressure”. “He informed the Prime Minister that until he was absolved of the charge, he would leave the ministry. He requested for a probe,” a source said.

Sources claimed that the CBI investigation would “expose” the “machinations” of an Opposition chief minister who, they said, had “laid the trap” for Judeo.

“There is circumstantial evidence suggesting that certain persons were put on the job by the chief minister to ensnare Judeo. The CBI will nail the plot and the chief minister will have to answer a lot of questions,” a cabinet minister said.

The BJP has decided that if Judeo is cleared of the charges, he would be reinstated in the cabinet.

In the interlude, he will campaign. “He will be the campaign in-charge,” the source said. The party will underscore a line that Judeo resigned “even though no FIR or complaint was lodged against him”.

However, the source admitted that Judeo would not share a platform with “star” campaigners from the Centre but “go about it on his own”. He will not be present at the kickoff meetings which will be addressed tomorrow in Chhattisgarh by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan.


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