The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Vajpayee tars Judeo with Jogi brush
- Atal attempts to regain moral high ground

New Delhi, Dec. 16: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today took a detour from his party’s path and returned to his favourite pedestal on the high moral ground, tarring Dilip Singh Judeo and Ajit Jogi with the same brush.

“It is unfortunate that I have to stand in the House of Elders and clarify issues of corruption. The incidents of corruption are a blot on our democracy,” the Prime Minister told the Rajya Sabha, breaking his silence on the Judeo cash-on-disc scandal.

Dono hi juju hain (Both are bogeymen),” Vajpayee added.

In the last leg of campaigning for the Assembly elections, the BJP had rallied firmly behind Judeo, elevating him to the status of a “star” campaigner. But having wrested Chhattisgarh, Vajpayee today went into damage-control mode and virtually defied the party line.

Observers believe the Prime Minister’s description of the Chhattisgarh adversaries as “juju (bogeymen)” is an attempt to regain the moral high ground the BJP lost after his deputy L.K. Advani, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and other party leaders stoutly defended Judeo.

Barely had the elections ended when Jogi was embroiled in a similar cash-for-MLAs controversy, which is believed to be of the BJP’s making.

BJP sources say the statement conveyed Vajpayee’s “moral outrage” over the controversies, both of which are believed to have been sting operations set up by political rivals. Jogi was heard on tape trying to allegedly bribe a BJP MP to split the party and become chief minister with Congress support. Some weeks before that, Judeo was seen on VCD accepting money allegedly from a middleman trying to wangle mining rights in Chhattisgarh and Orissa for an Australian firm.

The sources said the Prime Minister was trying to answer the Opposition’s accusation that the Centre had been “soft” on Judeo and “harsh” on Jogi for virtually the same offence — Jogi is seen as a bribe-giver and Judeo a bribe-taker.

But while no FIR was filed against Judeo even a month after a preliminary inquiry was instituted, the anti-corruption bureau in Chhattisgarh lodged a complaint against Jogi.

Vajpayee was seen to be soft-pedalling on the Judeo controversy when he addressed the Lok Sabha last Wednesday. He had ridiculed the Opposition for questioning the CBI’s independence and added: “The law will take its own course.”

But attacks by Congress MP Kapil Sibal and CPM member Nilotpal Basu forced the Prime Minister’s hand. Sibal last week said Vajpayee, who had begun his Prime Ministerial innings as a “colossus holding out the promise of zero tolerance for corruption” had reduced himself to an “ordinary mortal” during the Judeo controversy.

Vajpayee did not pull any punches today. “It is true India is progressing. But we have become hollow from within. The incidents involving Judeo and Jogi are a warning to us,” he said.

“Which way is our country headed'” Vajpayee asked, adding: “Two prominent leaders of two prominent parties are under a cloud of suspicion and humiliation. What kind of an effect will it have on the nation and its youth'”

The Prime Minister left no one in any doubt that he considered himself a model of integrity, saying: “In my 40-year political career, no one has been able to point a finger at me.” The politician in him surfaced soon afterwards as he added: “I am naturally happy after the results of the Assembly elections. But I am also enraged.”

BJP sources said Vajpayee’s use of the word “enraged” only “confirmed” their feeling that he was uneasy at the “Jogi sting operation” which was planned and executed when he was away in Nigeria. Some in the party felt the Jogi entrapment was “superfluous” after it became clear that the BJP had won a handsome majority in Chhattisgarh which left Jogi no scope to horse-trade or wean away its MLAs.Vajpayee remained silent on the issue even as some in the BJP gloated at the Congress’ discomfiture. The only “indulgence” he permitted himself was to say: “In Judeo’s case, we do not know why he took the money. In Jogi’s case, we know he gave bribes to break up the BJP legislature party in Chhattisgarh. The cases are different but both are bound together by the same thread of stigma.”

Email This Page