The alleged controversy involving Excise Minister H.Y. Meti has left the Congress government in the State red-faced.
The episode comes close on the heels of Minister for Primary and Higher Education Tanvir Sait being allegedly caught viewing objectionable pictures of women on his phone during Tipu Jayanti celebrations.
Although Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Karnataka Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) working president Dinesh Gundu Rao insisted that it was “not an embarrassment to the government or the party” and that the two episodes were not comparable, senior leaders within the party admitted that it has brought “disgrace” to Congress.
Mr. Dinesh Gundu Rao said the incident had nothing to do with the party or the government as it was not related to governance, administration or corruption. “It is a personal issue. Everybody has a private life. But here, as it involves a public figure, there have to be checks on moral values. It is unfortunate that such a thing has happened,” he said. The party would wait for the CID probe report ordered by the Chief Minister.
Senior Congress leader and Health and Family Welfare Minister K.R. Ramesh Kumar said irrespective of political affiliations, such episodes bring disgrace to the government. “Be it any party, we are all politicians and people are watching our actions closely. This is disgraceful,” he told the media.
The party, however, is insistent that the episode is not comparable to that of Mr. Sait. They said he was only browsing a forwarded message and the CID probe had established it.
The Chief Minister said: “It is not right to compare the incident of Mr. Meti with Mr. Sait since he was cleared of all the charges by CID. His was not a case at all.”
Replying to an allegation by H.D. Kumaraswamy, State president of JD(S), that Mr. Siddaramaiah was aware of the presence of the CD in question a month ago, the Chief Minister said it was far from truth. “I had promised to seek the resignation of Mr. Meti if the questionable CD was released. But Mr. Meti did not wait till I asked for his resignation,” he said.
Oppn. mounts pressure
Opposition leaders, meanwhile, are stepping up pressure on the government. Mr. Kumaraswamy alleged that the Chief Minister was clued into the episode much earlier but had refused to act. He could have saved the “government’s honour” if he had done so.
Speaking in Kalaburagi, former Minister and BJP leader S. Suresh Kumar warned that more Ministers may have to tender their resignations on moral grounds in the days to come. “It is just the beginning. More Ministers in the Siddaramaiah-cabinet would resign on similar grounds,” he said. Mr. Kumar said the BJP would get more such weapons to fight the Congress by the next Assembly elections in the State.
Demand for case
The BJP Yuva Morcha has demanded that the government register a case against Mr. Meti. In a release here, BJP Yuva Morcha State president and MP Pratap Simha demanded that the episode should not be allowed to end just with the Minister’s resignation. It should be taken to the logical end by bringing the guilty to book through an investigation, he said.
RTI activist demands CM’s resignation
Rajashekhar, an RTI activist who brought H.Y. Meti’s alleged sleaze tape to the media, has demanded the resignation of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah for allegedly backing the Excise Minister before the release of the video clippings.
Speaking to The Hindu over phone from New Delhi, Mr. Rajashekhar said he was not satisfied with the resignation of Mr. Meti. “I demand Mr. Siddaramaiah’s resignation on moral grounds as he had backed the tainted Minister before the release of the CD,” he said.
Mr. Rajashekhar also demanded increased security for him and his family.
“At present, I feel safe as I am in Delhi. I will have to come to my State soon. They [the Minister and his associates] may attack me any time. The Ballari police have deployed only a couple of constables. I demand more security,” he said.
Woman goes missing
The whereabouts of the woman, who allegedly figures in the scandalous tape, has now gone incommunicado.
On December 13, the woman got herself admitted to the government hospital complaining of illness. However, according to sources, she left the hospital the same night and since then her whereabouts are unknown and her mobile phone is off.
The woman, who initially made allegations that she had been exploited by the Minister, later said that they shared a “relationship like father and daughter.”
BJP protest in Bagalkot
The BJP activists staged a protest against Mr. Meti, who is four-time MLA, two-time Minister, and one-time MP. The activists in Bagalkot burnt his effigy and shouted slogans against the Congress government.
Mr. Meti is believed to be one of the close confidants of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, who went on to become Minister only with his support. Both were in the JD(S) before joining the Congress.