Bengaluru: The BJP and the Congress in Karnataka are in an embarrassing position amid speculation that at least eight leaders might have fallen prey to extortion scandals based on explicit videos featuring them.
Two of these are contesting the 5 December bypolls. They are among the 15 Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) rebels who joined the BJP this year.
Altogether, six of the leaders belong to the BJP and two to the Congress, police sources told ThePrint.
The cases came to light as one of the leaders, a BJP MLA from north Karnataka, approached the Bengaluru crime branch over an audio clip circulating on social media. The clip allegedly features an “intimate conversation” between the MLA and an unidentified person, and he was reportedly asked to cough up Rs 10 crore by suspected extortionists.
The crime branch filed an FIR in the case on 18 November and launched a hunt for the alleged extortionists. On Thursday, they arrested a gang of eight members, including two women, and that’s when they reportedly discovered video clips involving seven other leaders.
“We have one complaint by an MLA and we have taken it into consideration,” Bengaluru police commissioner Bhaskar Rao told ThePrint. “If there are more victims, let them come out and register a case with us and we will investigate.”
The videos come at a time when the BJP is busy preparing for the 15 upcoming bypolls, winning at least seven of which is crucial for the party to establish a majority in the assembly.
Precedent shows that politicians battling sexual scandals face a high chance of defeat in Karnataka polls.
Senior police officers working closely with the case have requested that the names of the affected politicians not be revealed as they are “victims of blackmail and extortion”.
“Until the investigation is complete, none of the names of the affected parties can be reported,” said a senior police officer to this reporter.
One of the legislators has moved the Karnataka High Court, seeking an injunction against any coverage involving his name in the case.
BJP spokesperson Vaman Acharya said the timing of the controversy is suspect. The opposition in Karnataka, he added, had used the incident as it is “useful” for them, but claimed people in Karnataka were now “immune” to such incidents.
“We are not worried about their personal characters. Honey-trapping is another kind of business and it is natural that if a man meets a woman in private, such things are bound to happen,” Acharya said.
“It has happened across party lines earlier too. See the case of senior Congress leader N.D. Tiwari,” he added.
Another senior BJP leader asked why only BJP members were being talked about when “leaders of other parties” have also been filmed similarly.
An official source in the chief minister’s office said there were no plans as of now to take action against the leaders in the question. The police investigation is on, the source added, and “also it would have a boomerang effect on the byelections”.
Meanwhile, the Congress is set to conduct its own investigation into the alleged threats against two of its members, senior leaders in the party said.
“Ultimately such things should not happen in a civilised society. Let police investigate and decide who the culprits are. Let them find out if it is a case of honey-trapping or consent,” said former Ballari MP and Congress spokesperson V.S. Ugrappa. “Then actions can be initiated.”
The alleged videos and phone recordings date between 2017 and 2018, police sources said. Some of the videos, they added, were even used during the Lok Sabha polls to extort money from politicians.
The prime suspects in the case have been identified as Raghavendra alias Raghu alias Rocky and his girlfriend Pushpa, who mainly targeted politicians in north Karnataka and on the outskirts of Bengaluru, the sources said.
The duo is said to have told police that they would identify targets after watching a politician closely over a few weeks.
The women would lure the politician to hotels and guest houses where rooms would be fitted with hidden cameras, the sources said.
The New Indian Express reported this week that one of the targets had transferred Rs 45 lakh to the extortionists.
Precedent paints poor prospects
Karnataka politicians have been involved in similar cases of sex videos in the past as well.
Krishna Palemar and C.C. Patil, two of three BJP leaders forced to resign as ministers in 2012 after they were allegedly caught watching a pornographic clip in the assembly, were given a clean chit by the Karnataka Legislature Committee but still lost the 2013 elections. The third, Laxman Savadi, however, won.
An internal BJP report prepared in the wake of Palemar and Patil’s loss indicated that the “porngate taint” was one of the reasons behind their defeat. Palemar was denied a ticket in 2018, but Patil and Savadi contested. While Patil won, Savadi lost.
Congress member H.Y. Meti, who served as excise minister in the Siddaramaiah government (2013-18), was also forced to resign in 2016 after a purported sex video surfaced.
Later, the Crime Investigation Department said the CD was doctored, but Meti lost the 2018 election.