State For Scandal
- 2012 Laxman Savadi, C.C. Patil, Krishna Palemar: BJP ministers quit posts after they are caught watching a pornographic clip on their mobile phones in the state assembly.
- 2010 Hartal Halappa, food & civil supplies minister: Accused of raping his friend's wife in Shimoga, arrested, resigns. Still MLA.
- 2008 Raghupathy Bhat, Udupi MLA, BJP: His wife Padmapriya disappears from home and is soon found dead under mysterious circumstances in Delhi.
- 2007 M.P. Renukacharya, excise minister: His alleged affair with a nurse turns sour; she accuses him of blackmail and harassment, attempts suicide. Row still on.
Pornography is the new depth the BJP has plumbed in Karnataka. When the party won the 2008 assembly polls, the buzz was Karnataka would be its gateway to the impenetrable south. Instead, three and a half years on, the gateway has led the BJP only to the shame of rampant corruption, land and mining scams, political brinkmanship and now, pornography.
Three ministers—Laxman Savadi, C.C. Patil and Krishna Palemar, all well-connected leaders—had to resign last week after TV channels caught them watching porn clips on a cellphone during an assembly session. Savadi and Patil are known to be confidants of former chief minister B.S. Yediyurappa; Palemar is from the rival Ananth Kumar camp, though this is a less well known fact.
The party, never ever short of fervent sermonisers on Indian culture and how young people, especially women, should dress and conduct themselves, is in an embarrassment of quite a deep shade of blue. Indeed, Patil is one of the worthies who had a few weeks ago said women who don’t dress a certain way invite rape. He later retracted the statement. The three porn-watchers had also put people’s credulousness to the test by saying they were watching the clips to understand what goes on at rave parties and how a woman was gangraped. There was no go thereafter but for the national leadership to ask them to resign. For now, it says, they aren’t being expelled, though the incident will be thoroughly investigated. Should more sordid details emerge, the party could be doomed in its middle-class constituency. Sources in the party say that, although it was Savadi and Patil who were caught watching porn and so asked to resign, Yediyurappa had insisted that Palemar go too. At a press conference after his resignation, Savadi did not forget to say that the source of the porn was Palemar’s phone.
“This is a conspiracy,” says a Yediyurappa camper. “They found Yediyurappa hard to handle, so they fixed his men.”
Before it reached Patil and Savadi, the phone had passed through the hands of some half a dozen BJP legislators. If more names of MLAs who watched the clip or received it on their phones turn up as the probe widens, it would spell disaster for an already paralysed party and government. Conspiracy theories have been put out in defence. “This is a conspiracy,” a source in the Yediyurappa camp said. “Yediyurappa was becoming difficult for the BJP to handle, so they tried to fix him by fixing his staunch supporters. Otherwise, why would the camera zoom in and freeze only on these two when the phone was being circulated freely in the treasury benches?” If there is indeed a conspiracy, the conspirators did not seem to calculate that the party as a whole, and not one faction alone, would stand discredited. “This wouldn’t have happened if the BJP was not a divided house in the state,” says another Yediyurappa supporter. “It’s only a matter of time before the party implodes.”
For a party that has lurched from scam to scandal to scam in the state, that’s a grim prognosis. But why has this happened? “Absolute lack of control,” say party workers. First, the BJP allowed the Reddy brothers of Bellary to do as they like. Then, it failed to keep Yediyurappa and his chums in check. By the time the high command took action in individual cases, the cumulative damage was severe. Porngate too saw chief minister Sadananda Gowda and state BJP leaders trying to ignore the scandal or defend the ministers. It was a section of the national leadership that felt action must be taken. State leaders also say the person in Delhi who springs to Yediyurappa’s defence is party chief Nitin Gadkari himself.
State-level workers also accuse the RSS of duplicity: when it suits the Sangh parivar, it tries to control the government; when disaster strikes, it tries to steer clear so that none of the moral taint attaches to it anyway. In fact, Kalladaka Prabhakara Bhat, an influential RSS leader from the chief minister’s home district, was quoted as saying taking action against the ministers was “left to the party and the Sangh has no say in it”.
However, there is a growing belief that this issue touches on personal morality, and not organisational culture or public corruption. The fear is that the incident could repel women supporters of the BJP. Hence, the party would do well to throw out those who have been caught. The problem, however, is that many more could be involved in the business of watching pornography in the assembly. That, sadly, seems to have been the business in the House that day.