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Editor, look who has dared to lecture you

Hyderabad, Nov. 28: Remember Bangaru Laxman?

If you do, chances are it is because of Tarun Tejpal. If you don’t, it is definitely because of Tejpal who presided over a sting operation that dust-binned the then BJP president.

The disgraced politician is one of the biggest trophies in the investigative showcase of Tejpal’s that eventually became Tehelka magazine, which has now been sucked into a scandal-ridden crisis.

Laxman has not forgotten the ignominious weeks of 2001 when the sting caught him receiving Rs 1 lakh. Neither has he forgiven.

“What a fall! People who pretend to be righteous stoop to such low levels, immoral methods and practices in the name of exposing corruption,” the former BJP president said from his bed in a Hyderabad hospital this week, referring to the sexual assault charge against Tejpal.

For those who were associated with the stated ideals of Tehelka and its investigative zeal, this must be the unkindest cut: Tejpal has allowed himself to be painted into such a corner that even Laxman does not find it ironical to sermonise.

Twelve years ago, Laxman was secretly photographed accepting money from undercover reporters posing as representatives of an arms dealer to recommend a defence supply contract.

Laxman, the BJP’s face representing the weaker sections, had little option but to quit once the footage became public and caught the imagination of a country that was growing cynical about politicians.

Convicted and jailed for a while, “Bangaru” became a word-association clue to sting operations, blanking out an inclusive message he had delivered as BJP president: “Muslims are the flesh of our flesh and the blood of our blood.”

On Tuesday, when this reporter met Laxman in the hospital where he is being treated for a neurological ailment, the 74-year-old former central minister dripped sarcasm on Tejpal.

Asked how Tejpal, accused of molesting a journalist, should be treated, he said the law couldn’t be different for Asaram Bapu and his son Narayan Sai. Self-styled godman Asaram and his son are both accused of sexual assault.

Laxman threw back a metaphor that captured the essence of what Tehelka was trying to accomplish professionally but was accused of indulging in when the sexual assault complaint was filed.

“Nobody can hide any longer,” Laxman said, adding that it was strange that Tejpal was seeking atonement for his guilt. “How can such a materialistic fellow now plead for spiritual relief?” the former Rajya Sabha MP wondered, alluding to Tejpal’s email titled “Atonement” in which he offered to “recuse” himself from the editorship of Tehelka for six months.

Laxman said Tejpal had fallen into the grave he had dug for others.

Laxman, who has a bachelor’s degree in arts and a law degree from Hyderabad, was a minister of state for railways in the NDA government from 1999 to 2000. From 2000 to 2001, he headed the BJP, before Operation West End, the sting, cost him his job.

In April 2012, a CBI court convicted him under the Prevention of Corruption Act and sentenced him to four years in jail. Soon after the judgment, Laxman resigned from his party’s national executive. He spent some time in jail and was granted bail on medical grounds. An appeal against the conviction is pending.

He does not hold any party post now. His wife Susheela Laxman Bangaru was elected to the previous Lok Sabha from Jalore in Rajasthan on a BJP ticket. Laxman has a son who works in a company in Delhi and three daughters. He has a family home but spends most of his time with his children in Delhi.

On Tuesday, Laxman sought to rationalise his acceptance of the money from the undercover reporters, saying it was given as donation for the “party fund”.

“They came to me… as businessmen who were willing to invest Rs 5,000 crore in India. They named a number of fields, like telecommunication, defence, power generation, etc. As president of the ruling party, I naturally got interested. We discussed a number of things, but they selected what they wanted to show,” he said.

“I accepted the money because they gave it to me saying it was for the party fund. All political parties depend on public donations,” he said. “What is one lakh rupees for a big party like ours?”

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