VOTES, LIES AND VIDEOTAPES
If there is one thing about former minister Dilip Singh
Judeo even his detractors have to concede, it is his unshakeable
self-confidence. So even when, every pollster in the country
was predicting that his party, the BJP, would lose the elections
in Chhattisgarh, Judeo was sure he's winning: So sure was
he, that he even promised to shave off his moustache in
case he lost. And everyone knows what a moustache means
to the male of the Rajput species, especially ones of the
Judeo variety who want to rid the nation of non-Hindus.
But then came the videotape: a rather inebriated Judeo caught
on camera accepting money from men posing as Australian
miners to get them a mining contract. Right before the elections,
the hidden camera expose was perfect material for all news
networks. To make matters worse, the Judeo on tape also
attempted some bad poetry on the 'divine' nature of money.
No wonder, Prime Minister Vajpayee - no mean poet himself
- sent Judeo packing into the wilderness.
Judeo insisted that he'd been made a victim of 'modern technology'
by Christian missionaries and his arch enemy, Congress leader
and Chhattisgarh chief minister, Ajit Jogi. It could have
been comic except for the fact that in the hinterland of
Chhattisgarh anti-Christian statements have serious divisive
connotations. From the colonial period, thousands of tribals
have converted to Christianity partly because they found
it to be a more egalitarian religion and partly because
of the work done by missionaries in the region. In the past
two decades, right-wing Hindutva groups have tried to reverse
this and bring the tribals back into the Hindu fold. It's
a movement which often operates through the use of violence
Dilip Singh Judeo has been at the forefront of this Hindutva
movement in Chhattisgarh, and it was clear that he was trying
his last trick - playing the Hindu card. But, everyone agreed
that it was too late: If Ajit Jogi was ahead in the race
earlier, the Judeo bribery tapes had made it a no-contest.
Judeo went into temporary hibernation and Jogi started getting
ready for another stint as chief minister, and even dissidents
within the Congress party grudgingly accepted his supremacy.
But the voters had other ideas. Jogi and the Congress were
thrown out of power. The Judeo tapes had failed to deliver
what Jogi wanted, just as Jogi and his government failed
to deliver to the people of Chhattisgarh. The Congress lost
almost all the tribal seats in the state to the BJP, but
what is significant is that the BJP's vote-share increased
by just 1 percent. A large portion of the votes had gone
to independents supported by an extremist left-wing group
- the naxalites.
Some Congress leaders had already sensed this anti-Jogi
sentiment: One of them even removed all Jogi posters from
his constituency. Some reporters who had gone deep into
the remote tribal areas to cover the election campaign had
also noticed the signs of a deep popular groundswell against
the Jogi regime, but their news-editors sitting in Delhi
were not willing to go against what the main opinion polls
were saying. There was also an overwhelming belief, in newsrooms,
that the Judeo tapes had turned the tide against the BJP.
The moral of the story is clear: Videotapes flashed on national
TV and opinion polls published in urban newspapers make
no difference to the voter in India's villages and tribal
interiors. What matters is a sure price for their produce,
jobs for their people, water for their children. Ajit Jogi's
government not only failed to deliver any of these, but
made things worse. Scores of government companies were shut
down, throwing thousands of people out of work. Forest-lands
were leased out to lumber companies and tribals were barred
from accessing what they traditionally considered to be
their own property. Money-lenders and traders got a free-hand
to exploit the tribals thanks to the protection they got
from local government officials. At one time, the Jogi government
even leased out 40 kms of the Sheonath River to a private
company who stopped local people from collecting water,
even for drinking.
Politicians - at least some of them - seem to have learnt
their lesson from the Chhattisgarh verdict. That's why the
BJP has dropped its old Hindutva slogan and coined a new
one - Bijli, sarak aur Paani (electricity, roads and water
for all). The Congress too is trying to work out a new development
plank that will focus on rural India and remedy the urban
bias of India's reforms programme.
But development issues don't make for entertainment: Urban
news organisations need something spicier, like the Judeo
videotapes. They also need instant news like opinion and
exit polls, however inaccurate they may have proven to be.
That is why stories of Jogi's failure on the development
front haven't made it to the front pages. What has hit the
headlines is the latest sting operation - this time by the
BJP against Jogi. An audio tape is out, of an alleged recording
of Jogi planning to bribe BJP MLAs to split the party. The
tape was played on all TV networks and became the first
lead in all newspapers. Jogi has been suspended from the
Congress party - guilty till proven innocent.
But, on the ground, deep inside Chhattisgarh no one is listening.
-- Smita Maitra Editor, Cerebration NEXT>