Staying untrue to its tagline of `party with a difference’, the BJP acted no differently on Bangaru Laxman. Washing its hands off its former national president, the party said “the jail term awarded by the court in a bribery case is part of a legal process which does not involve the party as the liability is personal”.
The court this week sentenced Laxman to four years in jail and imposed a fine of one lakh rupees. Laxman was caught in a sting operation, carried out by news portal Tehelka, where he was shown accepting a `bribe’ of one lakh rupees to fix a fictitious defence deal in 2001.
For over a decade, Bangaru Laxman has lived the life of a political outcast. The shot of him from under the glass table, accepting one lakh rupees became the symbol of a corrupt politician. Till Andimuthu Raja, Gali Janardhana Reddy and Suresh Kalmadi scaled up the corruption limits.
The BJP itself is a house divided over the treatment meted out to Laxman in the last couple of days. When news started trickling in that Laxman broke down on hearing the news, a sympathetic Andhra Pradesh unit sent two senior leaders – Bandaru Dattatreya and Ramchander – to be with him when the sentence was pronouced. Not to condone the `act of corruption’ but to lend a shoulder to a person who had served the party for close to forty years.
Delhi reacted differently. Its two spokespersons left Laxman to play his own innings, with a senior leader virtually admonishing the duo for making the trip to Delhi, saying “we have to be careful in these matters”. In contrast, BJP president Nitin Gadkari reportedly appreciated the state unit’s gesture and complimented them for “standing by Laxman”.
Why did Andhra Pradesh react the way it did?
One, there is a feeling in the state unit that he has already been punished politically. The RSS also endorsed the decision to make a public show of support by sending the two leaders, because it personally likes Laxman and sympathises with his plight.
Two, everyone in the party speaks of Laxman as one leader who would never say no to a task given by the party, even if it meant travelling to back of beyond of a district. Remember, Laxman put his hand up to contest against prime minister P V Narasimha Rao in 1991 from Nandyal, even though he stood no chance and eventually lost by over 5 lakh votes.
Three and most important, is the Telangana angle. The SC and BC vote is critical in the region and it is quite possible that the BJP could be targetted for abandoning Laxman, because he is a Dalit. Questions could be raised if the party would have reacted differently if the convicted leader was a Reddy or a Kamma.
Four, BJP leaders in Hyderabad aren’t convinced that the evidence, especially the Tehelka transcript makes out Laxman to be a traitor. “Where does he say he will get the defence ministry to compromise on the quality of the product? He has only in principle, agreed to help, to put in a word, after asking at what stage the file is stuck,” said a BJP leader.
The Delhi view is however, different. First turn the pages of history a decade ago when Laxman became president at the Nagpur session of the BJP National executive in August 2000. It was Murli Manohar Joshi with A B Vajpayee’s nod who propped up Laxman’s name, even though the likes of Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, the late Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley were not really in favour. His good Hindi and the symbolism of having a Dalit president worked in Laxman’s favour. But the present leadership of Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Advani aren’t comfortable with the idea of BJP defending Laxman and hence the “liability is personal” line.
Two things went against Laxman. BJP leaders in Hyderabad point out that it was a habit with him to take money directly, unlike most leaders who let their minions handle the cash and never get their own hands “soiled”, a way to make sure the trail never goes to them. Secondly, since the issue pertained to a defence deal and BJP projects itself as a party that is more patriotic than everyone else, Laxman is seen as a time bomb that will explode in the party’s face if it held him in its hand. Hence the keep-off-Laxman line.
In a week, that saw both Laxman and Rekha hitting the headlines, the BJP has drawn the laxman rekha as far as the Bangaru Laxman case is concerned.