The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress gloats over pre-poll godsend

Bhopal/New Delhi, Nov. 16:Khuda ki kasam mazaa aa gaya (By God, it’s great fun),” exclaimed Aziz Qureshi outside the Congress headquarters in Bhopal.

The Congress worker could well have been speaking for all his colleagues as they savoured the godsend: a bribery scandal involving BJP Union minister Dilip Singh Judeo, barely 14 days before the December 1 polls. He is the BJP’s unofficial chief ministerial candidate for Chhattisgarh.

The leaders in Delhi, too, could barely hide their glee. The high command immediately got down to turning the screw, with general secretary Ambika Soni reminding the BJP that it is not the first time it is finding itself at the receiving end of corruption revelations. “After Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly, now it is Judeo…. It is now incumbent on the Prime Minister to take action against Judeo. The minister has been caught red-handed in a video clip,” she said at a news conference, while demanding his dismissal and arrest.

The Congress plans to club the slur against Judeo with the corruption charges against six other cabinet ministers to push the BJP further into a corner. The Central Vigilance Commission recently accused these ministers — without taking names — of seeking favours from the public sector undertakings.

“We are exploring various options and keeping a strict watch on what course of action the government will take against the six cabinet ministers and Judeo,” said Soni. “The Prime Minister has been abroad since we gave a deadline on the issue. We are giving him extra time to reveal the names of the ministers.”

Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already written to Vajpayee on the six ministers. A section of the Congress feels that Sonia’s “inexperience” was partly responsible for the party’s failure to make capital of the March 2000 Tehelka expose into defence deals. But this time around, the leadership is priming itself to make “full use” of Tehelka II.

In Madhya Pradesh, where almost all surveys have written off the Congress, Digvijay Singh’s supporters are seeing the hand of god behind the scandal. “Raja Sahib helped create Chhattisgarh and now the new state is repaying its debt,” gushed pot-bellied Govind Goel, who is in charge of the Congress campaign.

The party is all set to “capitalise” on the scandal, convinced that it will have a “spillover effect” in the state. After all, Chhattisgarh used to be part of Madhya Pradesh just about three years ago and Judeo is still a familiar name and face in these parts. The party will distribute cassettes, videos, posters and banners of Judeo as shown in the tape, Goel said.

Qureshi, too, saw a hand of god, albeit for different reasons. “Judeo said ‘Paisa khuda to nahin par khuda ki kasam, khuda se kam bhi nahin.’ We also believe that khuda is there to teach the likes of Judeo a lesson for his indiscretion,” he said.

In his indiscretion, the Congress now sees a ray of hope. Digvijay’s spin doctors are confident a potent issue like corruption will stop the BJP in its tracks.

In Chhattisgarh, too, the party leaders must be licking their chops. Pre-poll surveys have shown the party with an edge over rival BJP. Now it could pull away in the race by exploiting the scandal involving chief minister hopeful Judeo.

Soni pushed for a CBI probe, referring to the haste with which the Centre had started an inquiry in a forgery case against chief minister Ajit Jogi, without taking his name. “The Centre then had not lost even a day,” she said.

The BJP leadership has dismissed the allegations against Judeo as part of a Congress conspiracy to malign the party. But Soni argued: “The editor-in-chief of the new paper which has broken the story has affirmed its authenticity. And for us, the editor is more credible than the BJP spokesperson.”

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