LAST week, for once, both the political and chattering classes of the Capital were talking about the same thing. Who were the persons "very close to the prime minister" whom Jayalalitha had accused of having taken bribes from representatives of "a well-known media group" to effect the transfer of enforcement director M.K. Bezbaruah?
The guessing game was on in earnest and the names being bandied about were those of the prime minister's former political advisor Pramod Mahajan, his son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and his secretary Shakti Sinha. Even the amount of the bribe allegedly received was doing the rumour circuit—Rs 4 crore to Rs 5 crore.
By the time the second missive from Chennai reached Delhi, however, things were a little clearer. The AIADMK alleged "frequent interaction of the impugned group's senior personnel with a gentleman who was still recently part of the PMO" and implied that he had a hand in the transfers. The AIADMK representative added that "what is worse, an individual very close to the PM had meetings with the corporate director of this group. Many of the discussions with both these individuals related to the cases against these groups."
While the media group strongly denied any role in the affair, the AIADMK's innuendo was clear: the first named individual seemed to be Mahajan, who took the bull by the horns. "I welcome Ms Jayalalitha's attempt to join the war against corruption and would be glad if she named me directly, instead of beating around the bush, in a signed document so that I can begin legal proceedings to counter this defamation." While Sinha refused to even "react to such charges", Bhattacharya told Outlook: "Look, I too have heard of these names and I think it is very unfair to name me. I wouldn't recognise the senior editorial and managerial staff of Bennett and Coleman (publishers of The Times of India) if they were lined up in front of me. And I have never met any of them including Mr Dileep Padgaonkar."
Senior BJP leaders were convinced that the PM and his aides had been attacked by the AIADMK to provoke him into breaking off the alliance. But the fear is that the anti-Vajpayee lobby in the party may use these allegations against him in future.