'Sleaze CD' Culture: The History of Sex, Lies & Videotape in Karnataka Politics
BJP politician Sadananda Gowda, on 19 September, accused "malefactors" of releasing a "deep fake" video.
A magnetic tape wound around a cylindrical device – an audio spool – did more harm to seasoned Congress leader, Veerappa Moily, in his political career than most of his adversaries could. In 1983, Moily, who was with Congress (I), was accused of bribing Janata Party legislator C Byre Gowda. Audio evidence of the act was allegedly caught and circulated on spools, at a time when audio cassettes were not universally popular.
The plot had an ambassador car – used allegedly for travelling to an unknown location, a massive bribe amount of Rs 2 lakh – a sum unheard of in the 1980s, and the voice of Moily allegedly caught on tape, asking Gowda to jump camps from Janata Party to the Congress.
While the RG Desai commission, set up to probe the case, acquitted Moily of all charges of corruption for want of conclusive evidence, even today Karnataka politicians remain vulnerable to being 'caught on tape', say political analysts.
In the latest CD row that has emerged out of Karnataka, Bharatiya Janata Party’s MP from Bengaluru North, DV Sadananda Gowda has filed a complaint with the city’s cyber crime wing accusing “malefactors” of having “brought out a fake, lewd video”, allegedly featuring him.
Long List of Tapes and CDs Across Party Lines
On 19 September, Sadananda Gowda issued a statement on Twitter, “Malefactors, who are upset by my rise on the political front, have brought out a fake, lewd video of mine for my fall. The video has become viral on social media, which pains me.” The tweet also shared Gowda’s cyber crime complaint as an attachment.
Meanwhile, what was in the CD? As per the video clip that was doing the rounds, the sleaze CD allegedly showed someone who resembles Sadananda Gowda, on what looks like a hotel room bed, describing in graphic detail the body of a woman, whose alleged picture is also flashed intermittently across the screen.
While Gowda has assured his electorate that the video is a “deep fake”, the incident is similar to Ramesh Jarkiholi CD case of March 2021.
Jarkiholi, who was a minister in former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s government, had to step down after he was allegedly caught on spy camera during a sexual exchange with a woman. The woman in the video clip, on 22 September, gave her statement before the Karnataka High Court, accusing Jarkiholi of sexually abusing her in exchange for a job.
Soon after the Jarkiholi 'sleaze CD' surfaced, six Karnataka politicians obtained an injunction from a Bengaluru city civil court, that prevented 68 media houses from airing defamatory video content that could feature them.
"Sex CDs are usually believed by the general public even if politicians deny their authenticity. The party is wary of such video content appearing before the public and has warned all leaders of indulging in bad conduct," a senior BJP leader told The Quint, on the condition of anonymity.
In the past several BJP politicians have been caught on what seem to be spy cameras.
In 2007, BJP leader MP Renukacharya was at the receiving end of an enquiry after photographs of him in a 'compromised position' were released to the media. In 2010, BJP leader Hartalu Halappa was held for raping a woman, after CDs of him in the alleged act were made public.
The party’s leader Raghupati Bhat had to withdraw his candidature from Legislative Assembly polls in 2013, when a 'sleaze CD' allegedly featuring him became public. “This is a recurring problem but not all politicians are guilty of doing what they are accused of. In several cases fake content is circulated to end political careers,” said the BJP leader, defending his colleagues.
The BJP's word of caution has been echoed by the leadership of other parties including the Janata Dal (Secular). "In Karnataka when a politician is caught on camera doing the wrong thing, they are immediately asked to bid farewell to their political future. All parties are wary of this," said a Bengaluru based political analyst.
In 2006, former Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy was accused of bribing BJP MLC Janardhana Reddy when his voice, allegedly caught on tape, was released. In 2014, Kumaraswamy was again accused of bribery, when a similar CD surfaced. When contacted, JD(S) leaders refused to comment.
Who is Spying?
While some of the video content on these 'sleaze CDs' has failed legal scrutiny, Karnataka politicians are always under surveillance for video and audio material, which is then kept away, to be 'released' at opportune political moments, analysts say.
“Mostly, close confidants of politicians are bribed to help record sensitive or allegedly incriminating video or audio content, which can be released to the media. With the proliferation of social media outlets, the content is now released on youtube and later picked up by media houses,” said a senior journalist.
In such cases, the politicians can only seek legal remedy.
“Media channels play the content in a loop till the accused politician gets an injunction banning the circulation of such the video or audio file. Media houses are not usually slapped with defamation as a host of channels play the same content together,” the journalist said.
Such 'spy video content' is considered a Damocles sword that could harm most politicians. “There are those who auction video content secretly for warring political parties to buy. The deals are worth crores as the returns are also worth crores,” the journalist alleged.
In Jarkiholi’s case, the minister lost his plum state cabinet berth when the CD surfaced. In Sadananda Gowda’s case, only superficial damage was done, as he does not hold a ministerial portfolio anymore. “If the content had made its way to the public when he was in power he would have been asked to step down. The party is image conscious,” a BJP leader said.
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