Envelopes with cash distributed at BJP press meet

A cash-for-coverage scandal has taken the fizz out of Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K.Advani's ambitious Jan Chetna Yatra against corruption and black money with the BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh “attempting to bribe” journalists for favourable coverage of the yatra.

Envelopes containing currency notes worth Rs. 500-1,000 were handed out to journalists during a press conference called by local BJP MP Ganesh Singh at the district party office in Satna on Wednesday, a day ahead of Mr. Advani’s press conference there.

State PWD Minister Nagendra Singh also presided over the press conference.

The incident came to light after one of the journalists, Arvind Mishra of the Hindi daily Nai Dunia, returned the envelope handed out to him and reported the matter as a news story in his paper.

“There were some 30-35 journalists both from print and TV at the press conference and everybody accepted the envelopes. I was enraged and along with my photographer, decided to return the envelope. It's unfortunate that this is what journalism, and politics, have come to in this country,” Mr. Mishra told The Hindu.

Mr. Mishra claims he has a recording of a phone conversation with the BJP's district media in-charge, where the latter has admitted to “bribing” journalists.

“Earlier it was decided to hand out gifts but gifts generally don't work because some journalists don't like the gifts given to them. So it was decided to hand out cash,” Mr. Mishra quotes the media in-charge as saying.

The issue has cast a serious shadow over Mr. Advani's yatra, which is supposed to be a “protest movement” against the ruling Congress-led UPA government's “inability” to address the issues of rampant corruption and black money.

The Congress has slammed the BJP over the incident and accused it of maintaining double standards on corruption.

“All arrangements for Mr. Advani's yatra in Madhya Pradesh are being made from black money earned through corruption and Wednesday's incident only proves this further,” said M.P. Congress Committee president Kantilal Bhuria.

Addressing journalists in Satna, Mr. Advani termed the incident a serious issue and directed State BJP president Prabhat Jha to enquire into the matter. All attempts to reach Mr. Ganesh Singh were unsuccessful, with his office telling The Hindu he was travelling with Mr. Advani.