Sex, lies and videotape hit BJP

Karnataka was supposed to be a stepping stone for the Bharatiya Janata Party's successful political foray in the south. But it is turning out to be a millstone around the party's neck.

The scandal involving three Karnataka ministers, two of whom were caught allegedly watching a pornographic clip on a mobile, is the latest to hit the party. This is not the first time that party members in the state have shown a keen interest in subjects outside politics. M.P. Renukacharya's name featured in a sex scandal before he became a minister and another minister, H. Halappa, had to quit when he faced rape charges.

It is not easy to decide which of the two acts of misdemeanour - seeing sexually explicit videos inside the state legislature or defrauding the exchequer - is more condemnable. But BJP members have been found crossing the line in both cases.

While B.S. Yeddyurappa had to be dragged kicking and screaming from the chief minister's chair following allegations of corruption against him, three ministers - K. Subramanya Naidu, Janardhana Reddy and Krishnaiah Setty - had to resign earlier because of the charges of venality against them. And this in a state where the moral police associated with the party has been criticising women for going to bars and threatening couples on Valentine's day.

In fact, one of the ministers who was caught watching the blue film had linked rape to the "provocative" dresses worn by women. In addition to their voyeurism, the ministers were also economical with the truth when they claimed they were only educating themselves about life in the decadent West.

Although the three have resigned, the BJP's former chief minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, has come to their defence by saying they were only watching a film and not "doing it". Considering that Parrikar's name was on the list of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as a possible successor to Rajnath Singh as the BJP president (the RSS finally chose Nitin Gadkari), the paterfamilias of the Sangh parivar will not be amused.

It may not be out of context to note at this point that Sanjay Joshi, an RSS apparatchik whose re-induction into the BJP has angered Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi so much that he has virtually opted out of the party's election campaign, had spent a longish period in the wilderness because of a video clip showing him in what is known as a "compromising position".

The latest revelations will be especially damaging to the BJP not only because it will puncture, perhaps permanently, its sanctimonious air but also because it will expose the fact that virtually all of its politics is based on false pretences. For instance, the movement for "liberating" Ramjanmabhoomi by destroying Babri masjid and building the Ram temple was not so much an expression of deep religious sentiments as a cynical ploy to whip up anti-Muslim feelings to serve its political purpose.

As much was clear when the party had no hesitation in putting the temple agenda, along with the scrapping of Article 370 and introduction of the uniform civil code, in cold storage to woo secular parties to form a government at the centre. However, the pseudo-religious affectation still made the BJP insist that it was "a party with a difference", which meant differentiating itself from the "corrupt" Congress.

But, even on this count, the BJP's pretences have been wearing thin. Strangely, it is Karnataka that has rocked it the most in this respect because of the antics of Yeddyurappa and the infamous Bellary brothers. It is not impossible that as a latecomer in the quest for power - Yeddyurappa became chief minister a decade after the BJP's rise to power at the centre - the party members in the state were in a hurry to make up for lost time.

However, the latest scandal also shows that the party has acquired dubious elements as it expanded rather too rapidly because of its ascent to power. The mental level of the new entrants can also be gauged from the BJP's preoccupation with Muslim-baiting as is evident from the Karnataka education minister's comment that those who do not respect the Bhagvad Gita should leave the country.

Another aspect of the Karnataka scene is that the mismatch between the saffron camp's intrinsic medievalism and the state's modernism because of its position as India's Silicon Valley has had two contrasting effects.

One is the spawning of Taliban-type outfits like the Sri Ram Sene which target women in pubs, and the other is the expression of rustic pubescent wonderment at the scenes of rave parties in the West being made available on a cellphone screen.

Even before the latest incident, the BJP shied away from calling its chief ministers to its anti-sleaze campaigns against the Congress only to keep Yeddyurappa out. Now, it will find it even more difficult to climb the moral high ground and claim to be a votary of Hindutva or "cultural nationalism".

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