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MINING TOO DEEP

Cleansing the soul of the taint of Christianity is an easier job than cleansing the soul of greed. That seems to be the inescapable moral of the tale of Mr Dilip Singh Judeo, now resigned Union minister of state for environment and forests, Christianity-basher and anti-conversion campaigner par excellence. The Bharatiya Janata Party rallied vociferously to Mr Judeo’s defence the moment the cash-on-disc scandal broke and started accusing the Congress for having framed the minister. The prime minister has put a mild brake on all this perverse excitement by ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry and saying that Mr Judeo would have to go if proven guilty. It is a modulation of tone, not necessarily a change in the party’s intention. The CBI reports to the prime ministers’ office; its inquiries may take a very long time — quite justifiably perhaps, since such matters are extraordinarily delicate, involving people in the highest places. Even the Supreme Court has expressed some concern about delayed results, and the Congress chief, Ms Sonia Gandhi, has demanded that the evidence be protected. Given that the Congress already has Tehelka and “coffingate” on the lengthy list of scandals associated with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government, Mr Judeo’s recorded eagerness to facilitate mining in Chhattisgarh and Orissa is a gift from the gods just before the assembly elections.

Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statements have bestowed a veneer of decency on the aftermath of the exposure. Mr Judeo, professedly unasked, has resigned on “moral grounds”. It seems possible that his official position has been kept “on hold” by the party, as was Mr George Fernandes’s after Tehelka. Meanwhile, Mr Judeo will be a central figure in the party campaign in Chhattisgarh — the BJP finds no reason to sacrifice his tribal following, and a case made for his heroic stature as a Hindu combined with possible martyrdom would help immensely. So the theory of a Congress conspiracy is being enriched by repeated references to Mr Ajit Jogi, who has not resigned in spite of forgery charges against him. Sting for sting has always been the BJP’s defensive policy, and the ubiquitous presence of corruption across the political board makes this easy. All that the BJP has had to give up is the vaunted label, “party with a difference”. No one associates austerity with the BJP any more. But the real question is whether all this smug piety on the one side and embarrassed defiance on the other mean anything. Is corruption an electoral issue' Since everyone is corrupt, the electorate might find other reasons to vote. Or not.

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