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India's Ruling Party Hit by Corruption Scandal


India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been hit by a corruption scandal, prompting a federal minister to offer his resignation. The allegations could hurt the party in a round of crucial, upcoming regional polls.

Junior Environment Minister Dilip Singh Judeo resigned Monday - a day after a prominent newspaper printed photos showing him allegedly accepting a bundle of cash from a person seeking mining leases in his home state of Chattisgarh.

Since then, television channels have aired the images over and over again.

Mr. Judeo is seen allegedly touching the cash to his forehead and saying, "Money is not god, but I swear by god, it is not less than god himself."

The allegations have sparked a political furor in the country just as four states - New Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh - begin campaigning to choose regional governments on December 1st. Mr. Judeo was a prominent BJP candidate in the Chattisgarh elections, and expected to take charge of the state if the party won the polls.

The BJP and Mr. Judeo dismiss the allegations as false, saying they were fabricated by political rivals. BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu called him "honest and sincere." "He has not done anything wrong which warrants any action against the minister," he says. "But understanding … the feeling of the minister and also the efforts of our political opponents to make it a campaign issue, we are of the view - o.k., let the minister resign."

Despite the BJP's stout defense, political observers say the scandal could damage the party's prospects in the coming state polls.

The elections, which pit the BJP against its main rival, the Congress party, are seen as a crucial test of strength between the two parties before national elections next year.

It is the second time BJP has been hit by charges of corruption in the past few years. In 2001, an Internet news company secretly filmed a video showing senior BJP politicians receiving cash from journalists posing as defense contractors. The scandal led to the resignation of the defense minister and the party's president, and tarnished the party's image.

The BJP came to power five years ago vowing to give the country a cleaner government.

Political corruption is a sensitive issue in India. In the past two decades, several government ministers and political parties have faced charges of accepting bribes for awarding lucrative government contracts.

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