Cash-for-votes tapes have more questions than answers

August 12th, 2008 - 12:42 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Bharatiya Janata Party

New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) Ending weeks of suspense over the contents of the cash-for-votes sting tape, the CNN-IBN news channel Monday evening telecast the controversial tape. However, the contents left several questions unanswered and did not conclusively establish a case of an attempt to bribe three BJP MPs to make them abstain during the July 22 trust vote in parliament. The tape showed Samajwadi Party MP Reoti Raman Singh meeting three Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs and offering them a “deal” in return for their abstention during the crucial trust vote.

The channel decided to air the tapes after its representatives Monday appeared before a parliamentary panel set up to investigate the MPs’ allegations, Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of CNN-IBN, said while introducing the show.

The tapes merely showed the meeting between the Samajwadi Party parliamentarian and the three BJP MPs - Ashok Argal, Faggan Singh Kulaste and Mahavir Bhagora. The contentious tapes, based on footage shot through secret cameras, show Reoti Raman Singh, MP from Allahabad, coming to the 4, Ferozeshah Road residence of BJP MP Ashok Argal on the midnight of July 21 and sweet-talking them into a cash-for-vote deal.

The two other BJP MPs were present at Argal’s residence. The tapes show Raman Singh talking to the three BJP MPs and asking them to meet Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh “face to face” and sort out the “amount” and “deal” with him in return for their abstention.

When they demur saying it’s too late in the night, Raman Singh is shown cajoling and persisting with his plea that the deal will be closed in “10 minutes”.

The next morning, the tapes show a white Maruti Zen allegedly carrying two BJP MPs entering the Lodhi Road residence of Amar Singh. As the car had tinted glasses, the tapes were apparently not able to film those inside the car. Suhail, a middleman who allegedly fixed the meeting between the BJP MPs and Reoti Raman Singh is, however, seen getting out from the car and entering Amar Singh’s residence.

The deal is struck, with Amar Singh allegedly promising that he will pay the three BJP MPs Rs.30 million for abstaining from the trust vote. Later in the day, a man goes to the residence of Argal with a bag carrying Rs.10 million as token amount.

The tapes have vivid footage of Sanjeev Saxena taking out bundles of currency notes and keeping them on the table with other BJP MPs confirming that it was the token amount of Rs.10 million. Saxena is also shown talking on his mobile phone, allegedly with Amar Singh (one can’t hear the voice of Amar Singh on the tapes), who is often referred to as the “boss”.

However, in an interview after the sting, BJP leader Arun Jaitley is shown by the news channel as saying that the party has provided enough evidence to establish the link between Saxena and Amar Singh.

Jaitley said that the BJP has provided records of Saxena’s mobile phone calls on that day to Amar Singh to belie the latter’s claim that he did not know Saxena well. Jaitley also claimed that Saxena was sending SMSes to journalists informing them of Singh’s press conference days before the trust vote. The news channel tried to contact Saxena, but he has mysteriously disappeared after the July 22 trust vote.

There are many grey areas in the bribery scam that rocked parliament hours before the trust vote July 22 when the three BJP MPs started flashing wads of currency notes as proof that they had been bribed, but the quality of footage in tapes is not reasonably good and leaves viewers to construct their own story, raising more questions rather than answering them.

The news channel had defended its decision not to broadcast the tapes on the same day on the ground that it did not pass their in-house editorial screening and self-imposed code of sting operations. This fuelled speculation about the motives of the channel in not broadcasting it.

Sardesai Monday again defended his decision saying that “a journalist’s timeline can’t be influenced by a politician’s timeline”. The tapes needed further checking and cross-checking before they could be placed before the public, he said.

Amar Singh and Ahmed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, both Rajya Sabha members, have denied charges of being involved in the bribery scam.

The parliamentary committee, which was earlier asked to submit its report Monday, has been given an extension till Aug 29.

The committee is also expected to watch two other CDs, which have come out on the incident. The second CD, which reportedly turned out to be a bogus one, was presented by former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti, who claimed the BJP had stage-managed the entire episode.

Three allies of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - Rashtriya Janata Dal, Lok Janashakti Party and Samajwadi Party - also released a fresh CD a few days back purportedly showing that the BJP had stage-managed the episode.

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