Photo Credits: File photo
On the eve of the last Assembly elections held in February 2022, a scandal broke out -- a sting operation video broadcast by a Delhi-based news channel 'Hindi Khabar' in which five front-running candidates of the Congress and TMC were caught on camera accepting large wads of notes allegedly as a quid-pro-quo to switch party allegiances after winning in the post-poll government formation jostling.
The four big-name candidates -- Churchill Alemao (TMC-Benaulim), Avertano Furtado (Congress-Navelim), Sankalp Amonkar (Congress-Mormugao) and Savio D'Silva (Congress-Velim) -- allegedly also spoke of business opportunities and benefits post government formation for those paying the kick-backs in the sting videos.
On Goa's defection-prone political canvas, it was one of the most startling and perhaps only media operation that sought to expose the malaise of horse-trading.
It did make big news then, just a day before polling day, but with the Election Commission and Goa's the then Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Kunal stepping in, the sting was taken down and both the political parties affected -- Congress and TMC -- denied it alleging that the channel used latest technology to manipulate and produce 'deep fake' videos.
The two parties also filed complaints with the Goa CEO accusing the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of orchestrating the 'deep fake' videos for ulterior motives citing that the Arvind Kejriwal-led party had tweeted the video broadcast from its official handle and was seemingly a beneficiary electorally by influencing the electorate as none of the candidates caught on camera belonged to them.
Indeed, the video broadcast of the sting videos by 'Hindi Kabhar' did trigger a slugfest of allegations and counter-allegations by the contending political parties and the Election Commission of India was petitioned to play referee which the latter rightly declined to do given that it was just a day away from polling and during the 48-hour silent period when propaganda of any sort is prohibited.
An FIR was also booked but eighteen months later, the issue and the outcome of the investigations into multiple complaints registered seem to be all but forgotten, perhaps because only one of the four actually went on to win the election -- Sankalp Amonkar. It is quite another matter that he (Amonkar) coincidentally happens to be part of the eight-MLA Congress group that switched allegiance to the saffron party, less than six months after the result in mid-September last year.
No official from the office of the Chief Electoral Office was willing to come on record on the current status of the case. Is it investigated by the police or simply forgotten because it can potentially serve no purpose of any of the contending political parties?
Have the videos been put through a forensic audit to ascertain whether they are genuine or 'deep fake' as the Congress and the TMC had claimed then?
Efforts to find answers to these questions and what is the legal status of the cases that were booked earned little success as police officers with the Crime Branch simply refused to entertain the enquiries.
And while the episode seems to have been forgotten by all and sundry here in Goa and the suspense as to whether the sting operation is genuine or fake with manipulated videos, the internet does not forget: the entire video broadcast continues to be available on the digital platforms of Delhi-based channel 'Hindi Khabar'.