July 04, 2020
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The Sting That Wasn't To Be

How BJP's hopes for a two-pronged attack on the bribery issue fell flat

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The Sting That Wasn't To Be
The Sting That Wasn't To Be

"The right thing for the channel (CNN-IBN) would have been to show it (the cash for votes tape) and let people draw their own conclusions."
 —L.K. Advani

That was the BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful a day after the UPA government won the vote of confidence. L.K Advani also maintained that had the sting operation tapes showing three BJP MPs being bribed to abstain from voting been telecast, the results of the trust vote might have been very different.

What is there in the five tapes submitted to Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee by CNN-IBN on July 23? According to sources, there are three key sequences:

  • Footage of SP MP Reoti Raman Singh declaring that the three BJP MPs—Ashok Argal, Mahavir Bhagora and Faggan Singh Kulaste—would be rewarded Rs 3 crore each in return for abstaining from voting.
  • The second sequence shows two men driving into Argal’s house in a Maruti Gypsy with "a bag full of money". There is a videograph of the serial number of the first and last note in each bundle of currency. The two men—one of them believed to be Amar Singh’s secretary Sanjeev Saxena have been caught on camera. But their identities are yet to be confirmed either by cnn-ibn or the BJP MPs.
  • An interview with the three BJP MPs who were apparently offered the bribe to vote for the government.

Advani calls for probe

So why didn’t the channel telecast its sting operation? Sources at CNN-IBN told Outlook that the matter was debated intensely by the top editorial team for five hours. But, as a senior staff member of the channel points out, "Before we could take a call on the story, the BJP MPs rushed into Parliament and declared the sequence of events, thus blowing our cover. At that time we felt that we needed to dig a lot more to complete our investigation conclusively and beyond the pale of any doubt."

The BJP leaders, however, allege that the channel was pressured by the government into not telecasting the scoop. The party had expected CNN-IBN to air the story even as its MPs dramatically displayed the wads of notes in Parliament. In fact, Advani had said on the evening of the trust vote that a prominent channel would telecast the damning tapes. But sometime, somewhere the script went wrong.

Those in the know told Outlook that there is enough on the tapes to merit a police investigation. A source in CNN-IBN points out: "There are enough leads which the police have the powers to investigate. However, for us, journalistic ethics demanded that the tapes be submitted to the Speaker and not be aired in their present form."

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