Prajwal Revanna sex tape scandal puts JD(S) in a pickle

A grandson of former PM Deve Gowda and the current MP from Hassan, Prajwal Revanna, faces a daunting road ahead as he grapples with severe accusations of multiple rapes. The scandal, which has rattled the state of Karnataka, poses a threat to the existence of JD(S). A  report by Aayush Goel

Hassan, a quaint town in South Karnataka, has always been known as the epicentre of Janata Dal (Secular) growth and a testament to the giant strides former PM HD Deve Gowda had made. It is yet again in news and this time for alleged mass rape scandal involving grandson Deve Gowda, Prajwal Revanna, who is incumbent MP and the NDA candidate in the Lok Sabha election.

The scandal has rattled the state with political alleys rife with allegations and counter allegations. The Congress has trained guns on BJP and PM Narendra Modi. Rahul Gandhi has accused the BJP for not just seeking votes for ‘mass rapist’ but also allegedly letting him flee from the country on a diplomatic passport even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised strictest punishment against anybody involved in  such heinous acts committed regardless of his  party affiliations and position. Prajwal, born on 5th August 1990, is the 3rd youngest MP in Parliament. He is the son of H.D. Revanna, former Minister for Public Works Department in Karnataka while former CM of Karnataka, H.D. Kumaraswamy, is his uncle.

H.D. Deve Gowda gave up his stronghold, Hassan district, for Prajwal’s debut into electoral politics and contested from Tumkur. In the 2019 general election, JD (S) contested 6 out of 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, with Prajwal emerging as the only winner. Today, Prajwal stands suspended from the party, being hunted by Interpol and Indian police. Meanwhile, as the political parties are fighting it out, the protests are gripping the state that awaits Prajwal’s return and Lok Sabha results. The victims are scared, scarred and stigmatised.

The scandal  

The scandal which threatens to be a big blow to the political existence of JDS came to light on April 22 this year, four days before the constituency went to polls. It was the morning that residents started stumbling upon pen drives lying along the tracks of the district stadium, about 190 km from Bengaluru and in Maharaja’s Park in the heart of Hassan. As the day progressed it was raining pen drives in the city. People picked them out of curiosity and passed them on and when once downloaded they found sexually explicit video clips, photos and screenshots of video calls. Soon, this went viral. The women in the photos and videos were clearly visible, but the man was not. However, he could be seen partially in the screenshots of the video calls he made to the women.

There were at least two clips in which the women could be seen resisting the man’s advances and pleading with him even as he raped them while recording the act. Soon a word went around identifying the man as Prajwal Revanna. His father HD Revanna too has been accused of abducting one of the women in the clip.  She was the same woman seen pleading in one of the videos. “Beda Anna, bitbidi (please brother, spare me),” she can be heard saying. HD is a former minister, and MLA of Holenarsipur, the home town of the Gowda clan.

The clips have opened floodgates with police estimates of victims being around 100 though so far only two have lodged complaints. Based on their complaints, Prajwal has been booked for rape in two cases. The first complainant is 44-year old JDS worker who alleged that Prajwal raped her at his official residence in Hassan when she had gone to meet him in 2021 seeking seats for some women students in a hostel. She alleged that the act was video graphed to blackmail her and they issued a threat to her life. The second complaint pertains to a former house help in the Revannas’ Holenarsipur household. A third FIR pertains to the abduction of one of these victims who was rescued by SIT (Special Investigation Team) from the farmhouse of the former personal secretary to Revanna in Hunsur, Mysuru. Prajwal’s father H D Revanna was arrested after the raid and now has been granted bail.

The investigations so far

Hassan went to the polls on April 26 and that was the last Prajwal was seen in public. The next day, he allegedly flew to Germany from Bengaluru, at 2 a.m. using his diplomatic passport. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has issued a statement saying no political clearance was either sought from or issued by it in respect of travel of suspended JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna to Germany. MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal also said that no visa is required for diplomatic passport holders to travel to Germany.

Following a letter by the Karnataka State Commission for Women seeking a probe, the state government formed an SIT into the matter headed by Bijay Kumar Singh, a 1996 batch Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, who is Additional Director General of Police, Criminal Investigation Department. The SIT has since April 28 registered three FIRs. Amidst the demands to shift the probe to CBI, Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah has refuted the need saying he has faith in the SIT of the state police. The state government says Interpol has already issued a blue corner notice. Karnataka Home Minister G Parameshwara says that the SIT will not be going abroad to bring him back, and the Interpol will share information about him.

Meanwhile, in a new development, the National Commission for Women on May 10 said one of the woman complainants was forced to register a “fake case” against the Karnataka leader. NCW also added that the claims of 700 women submitting complaints against the JDS leader was false.

The politics

No matter what the outcome be, the scandal will cast its shadow on Karnataka politics for years and has put JD (S) very existence in jeopardy. The Congress has trained guns on the BJP. Former chief minister BS Yediyurappa has announced BJP-JD(S) alliance would remain unaffected despite the sex video scandal. JD (S) was formed in July 1999 after the split of Janata Dal. The party symbol, a woman in a green sari carrying a haystack on her head, has been converted to a meme with haystack replaced by pen drive. The lineage of the party patriarch, former PM and Rajya Sabha MP HD Deve Gowda has taken a blow and he has refrained from making any public appearances.

While NDA is accusing the Congress of fake propaganda, it was a local BJP leader and lawyer G. Devaraje Gowda who was the whistleblower for the case and had made first references to these crimes. He has been detained by police after being accused of sexual harassment and voyeurism, along with violation of privacy under the IT Act, by a woman. Devaraje, who had unsuccessfully contested from Holenarsipur against H.D. Revanna in 2023, is known for his scathing attacks against the Revanna family.

A letter written by him to BJP state president emerged where he had claimed that he had a pen drive containing 2,976 explicit clips of Prajwal and advised the State president not to field him as the NDA candidate. He also said a copy of the pen drive had been sent to leaders of the Congress, the ruling party in Karnataka. Two BJP workers have been arrested for circulating the clips.