The website of the Stamp IT, the investigating team probing the multi-crore stamp paper scam in Karnataka, has of late been swamped by hate mail against politicians of Maharashtra, AP and Karnataka ("Nikamma Indians", "deshdrohis"). Much of it drips with sarcasm, slamming Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna's nonchalance, and his protecting small-scale industries minister Roshan Baig despite obvious evidence on his dealings with Abdul Karim Telgi. Krishna, on his part, did finally ask for his colleague's resignation (the first politician to quit in ignominy in Karnataka), but the eleventh hour tactics could still prove an ominous stain on the 'clean image' of the Congress government in the run-up to the parliamentary and assembly elections.
It took some tough talking by the CM to compel Baig to put in his papers soon after the arrest of younger sibling Rehan Baig in December. The strategy was to get his resignation ahead of the winter session of the assembly in January—to try and blunt the Opposition's onslaught. But Baig wouldn't give in. Instead, he chose to disown his brother, condemning him for his wayward lifestyle and declaring that he wouldn't mind being hanged if found guilty. Baig was so confident he was even then organising the annual Haj camp for pilgrims leaving to Mecca. His resignation finally landed on Krishna's table a couple of hours after news agencies ran a report that he had quit. A day later, he called newspaper offices from Saudi Arabia, saying he would return to battle all those levelling allegations against him. "I had decided to do this (resign) long ago. I tolerated everything because of the Haj trip. I decided to act after the last Haj flight left," Baig's statement from Mecca said.
The case has for now proved a godsend for the state BJP. It has made public the statements by others arrested in this case to drive home the Baig-Telgi connection. "Summon him from Mecca, freeze his bank accounts and initiate criminal cases against him," says Opposition leader Jagadish Shettiar with obvious relish. He has also charged that Baig heads Reach-Foundation, an entity allegedly funded by Telgi. The party has also vowed to "uncover" the connections of a few other ministers and senior police officers.
Krishna, though, seems to be taking all this in his stride. He in fact managed an analogy of the stamp paper scam with the Indian cricket team's performance Down Under. "I don't want to dissolve the House. We are playing like Tendulkar and Kumble. We are in good form...Baig will be drafted for party work. So will a few other ministers," he told reporters. His colleagues, however, think it's a wee bit late to draft them for party work and that the CM's move to club the assembly elections with the general polls could boomerang. "Vajpayee's stature has risen after his Pakistan visit. Their (BJP's) leaders are gung-ho about the performance of the NDA government. It could influence voters who already have a grudge against us because the monsoons have failed for three consecutive years. Also, we have not been able to provide electricity to rural areas through the year. Our only hope is to make the most of a divided Opposition," a senior Congress minister told Outlook. He added that it would be rather absurd to bank on the premise that voters would pick one party for the Centre and one for the state.
Also, with the CBI likely to step in, the heat would be turned on on the likes of Rehan Baig. The agency could also uncover new deals involving till now untainted leaders, and not just from the Congress. As a senior cop commented, "Telgi will expose a lot more players in the coming days." So, right now, whose poll campaign the Telgi scam finally becomes is anybody's guess.
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