Dalits are hurt, says Bangaru Laxman

HYDERABAD: Smarting under an ignominious exit as party chief after the Tehelka expose, former BJP president Bangaru Laxman says Dalits across the country are "deeply hurt" over the way his career was "scuttled" and views himself as a victim of a "criminal conspiracy".

Even while defending the party leadership on the way it handled the political aftermath of Tehelka disclosures, he could hardly conceal his ire at 'certain people in the party who may differ' with his "Nagpur call" to broad-base the party.

"But the conspiracy to cut short my career was hatched outside the party. Congress is behind it and there are many more whom I do not want to name now as the commission is seized of the matter," Laxman said in an interview here.

Seeking to put the Tehelka stigma firmly behind him, an unrepentant Laxman spoke about his "clear conscience" and exuded confidence that he would come out "clean" on the issue.

Admitting his partymen were in a state of "shell-shock for 48 hours" after Tehelka tapes, showing him accepting wads of currency notes from fictitious arms dealers, were made public, he said "no one was able to distinguish between two different issues - the party president accepting donation for the party and alleged corruption in defence deals".

Laxman had arrived here last week to a hero's welcome from his followers who invoked the Dalit card and waved placards suggesting that Dalit organisations would stand behind him in his hour of crisis.

"I hope the party will take note of such sentiments," Laxman said as a steady stream of supporters throng his Keshava Nagar residence here to express solidarity with him.

"There is a lot of resentment among Dalits all over the country over the way I was made a victim of a conspiracy. Cutting across party lines, Dalits have been raising their voice," Laxman said.

He, however, stopped short of blaming the BJP leadership for his predicament.

"The impact of visual media was so much that it created shock waves and my party leadership was also carried away by the images. In that hour, they were not able to distinguish between party president accepting donation for the party and defence issues," he said.

Asked whether he felt in retrospect that the party could have treated him differently, he said "my party's reaction was on expected lines. It was reeling under shock and a clear-cut strategy was not apparently coming out in the first 48 hours".

Laxman, however, hastened to add his resignation from the party presidentship on moral grounds was in tune with BJP's principled stand on such matters and cited the instance of L K Advani resigning from Lok Sabha when his name figured in hawala scandal.

Queried as to how he could blame the Opposition for curtailing his career since his resignation was guided by his own party's principles, he said "there was a criminal conspiracy against me because I come from Dalit background. Otherwise, why do you think I was chosen for framing in this case when I am not at all connected with defence deals.

"I had taken over the reins of the party just three months back. I was not a member of defence committees nor did I serve as defence minister anytime in the past."

Laxman says he is convinced that tehelka.com's sting operation was not an "ordinary journalistic effort" but a "deeper conspiracy to cut short the career of a Dalit leader".

"Even the media was carried away by the images and could not distinguish between donation and bribery. The footage was clearly doctored and there were lot of inconsistencies", he said.

He spoke about how history was replete with similar attempts to defame and scuttle the careers of Dalit leaders.

"Many Dalit leaders in the past were not allowed to come up. Ambedkar was not allowed to enter the new Parliament as he was defeated twice. Jagjivan Ram was not given enough support though he was projected as a prime ministerial candidate. Keeping such history in view, Dalits have a feeling that whoever shows signs of coming up will somehow be scuttled," he said.

Apparently drawing comfort from the support he has been getting from the youth, Laxman sounded optimistic about his future in the party.

Asked what were his expectations from BJP leadership, he said, "I am sure I will be cleared of all the charges once the commission completes its probe. It is for the party to utilise my services in any capacity. Even otherwise, my status as a party worker will not be altered".

The former BJP president asserted the initial stir that the tapes had created was now tapering off and the Opposition's campaign against the government had no takers.

Asserting that his "conscience was clear" while accepting donation from the Tehelka team, Laxman said he was "pained over the hue and cry being raised by the Opposition" on the issue.

Though he felt "anguished at personal level" to have gone down in the history as the first president of a political party to quit office on charges of accepting money, Laxman said it was high time a national consensus was evolved on the issue of party funding.

Pointing out that there was "no transparency, accountability and code of conduct" in funding of political parties, he said "something definite had to be done", including examining proposals for state funding and amending the companies law to allow public limited companies to contribute to party funds.

"Let them (Opposition parties) say with fingers on their heart that they do not accept public donations. It is high time we put an end to this hypocrisy," Laxman said.

Elaborating on his conspiracy theory, Laxman said the Opposition parties were jealous of the overwhelming support to his "Nagpur call" from minorities, Dalits and backward classes.

"My call to broad-base the party had created a stir in the Opposition camp. They were worried over erosion of their constituents on account of my appeal. I do not deny that there might have been different views in my own party on this," he said. Laxman hoped the on-going judicial probe would be able to nail the "conspirators" and ferret out the truth. (PTI)

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 8, 2001
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