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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 and hatred.

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>







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