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Unless the electorate in the four states is being unduly deceptive, the results of the semi-finals are not going to give us too many clues about the outcome of the final. Even if Congress wins 3 out of 4, the final is nicely poised. The Outlook pollster, AC Nielsen, had in fact put the BJP slightly ahead in Chhattisgarh—which explains Mr Jogi’s anxiety—before the Judeo drama hit the screens and maintained that it would not be surprised if the scandal had marginal influence on voting intentions. However, in a close race marginal influences can upset calculations.

If the final remains an open match, what do these elections tell us about the tone and tenor of the big fight? Very little, except one thing: the general election will be exceedingly dirty with hitting below the belt becoming the norm rather than the exception. By dirty I don’t mean abuse, viciousness, wild charges, legal notices, etc. What we will see is more ‘information’ being strategically released. Politicians will need to debug/sanitise rooms, cars, mobile phones, even lavatories. Going to a hotel room or the house of a friend for a chat or a drink must surely now be an act of extreme recklessness if not folly. Our pols, as we well know, have many private peccadillos; not only is their spirit willing, so is their flesh. For the major parties, then, the spycam poses the single biggest threat in 2004. A second explosive tape doing the rounds in Raipur could not find any takers because of poor audio and video quality rather than ethical considerations. So, get prepared for much muck.

Meanwhile, what is both interesting and intriguing is the fact that it is the BJP which is being exposed. This could be a coincidence, but I doubt it. The unresolved scam concerning the "milking" of PSUs has three BJP ministers, two of them front-rank cabinet ministers. Have Congress netas suddenly turned saints? Is there no rogue in Sonia Gandhi’s party who likes tainted money, Black Label and shady women? Followers of this column know the BJP is not my favourite formation, but I am beginning to feel a tinge of sympathy for the men and women with a ‘difference’. And completely mystified why this mighty party cannot put a stop to the serial embarrassments it is facing.

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