Loose talk and hot potatoes

If what anti-corruption crusader Anjali Damania says about Nitin Gadkari is true, then there could be no greater tragedy for the Bharatiya Janata Party that is systematically getting exposed and isolated with each passing week. And there could be nothing more dangerous to Gadkari’s personal and political future.

However, I find it very difficult to fathom how Gadkari could be so indiscreet as to threaten his own credibility by speaking so loosely to activists even if they were previously known to him (as was Damania). Gadkari, of course, has sent her a legal notice for stating that he had refused to expose irrigation scams in Maharashtra because he had “business interests” with Sharad Pawar. For if he really does – with Pawar, I mean – it will be difficult to track down Pawar’s interests in those businesses. And Gadkari could be left holding this particular hot potato without quite being able to drop it.

I have known many politicians with business interests – including those from the Congress who keep Narendra Modi alive in Gujarat by subverting their own party’s interests in order to protect their businesses – but none of these leaves behind any trail that might lead directly to themselves. However, the younger lot of politicians, perhaps, have not yet learnt to cover up their tracks and lie through their teeth, as do the older ones.

That is one reason why even Ajit Pawar is in so much trouble in Maharashtra (the irrigation scams all seem to be leading directly to him). But he, at least, has his more astute uncle to bail him out (that is, if the senior Pawar wishes to). Gadkari has no such fig leaf to cover up for him. I recall, when the Adarsh scam first broke in October 2010 and there was a whiff of a suggestion that he could have some benami flats in the society, Gadkari had threatened to set up a legal cell in his party office to sue any one who dared to unnecessarily defame him.

Now, even as his name figures in Coalgate, his own party’s agitation against that scam brought to the fore the fact that Ajay Sancheti, a man Gadkari seemed to have plucked out of nowhere to send him as the BJP’s nominee to the Rajya Sabha, is actually his business partner – that Sancheti, a billionaire in his own right, owns ten government- subsidised flats in Adarsh Society when he could easily buy ten times that number of penthouses across Bombay for a fraction of his earnings from his various businesses.

This certainly does not look good for the BJP president, particularly as Damania is unfazed about her allegations, refuses to apologise, claims she has enough to prove that Gadkari told her what she says he did and promises to see him in court. People in the know in Nagpur, Gadkari’s (and my) home town have been warning me for months that he could soon be in trouble for his various indiscretions and uncovered flanks. He is already disliked by senior leaders in the BJP who do not appreciate the fact that he was thrust upon them by the ambitious RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat who wishes to rule a potential BJP government with his own remote – and Gadkari is crucial to those ambitions (no other leader, including Sushma Swaraj or Arun Jaitley would be as complaint as Gadkari). There are also enough BJP men in Maharashtra who root for his arch rival Gopinath Munde and thus flout his directives every step of the way.

But more dangerous for this long-time friend of mine is the fact that this is probably a campaign mounted upon him by some of his own and has the stamp of Narendra Modi all over it (a la the CDs against RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi which were outed just as he was to have taken on a bigger role in the BJP). Sidelined by the Gadkari group in the state BJP, former party MP Kirit Somaiya has now gone ahead and filed a Public Interest Litigation in the Bombay High Court, after he had admitted privately to many in the media that he was being pressurised by his party president not to do so. Somaiya is now firmly in the Advani camp and he could not have gone against his party president without backing at the highest echelons

Similarly, Damania, it is well known, is from a family with a RSS background and so trusted Gadkari implicitly to back her up in her anti-corruption drive (as perhaps Gadkari did her with his confidences). I am told she was unwilling to disclose Gadkari’s name until she was backed by the Advani-Modi nexus in the BJP which hates Bhagwat’s attempts to promote Gadkari as a potential prime ministerial candidate. My sources also tell me that the Advani-Swaraj-Jaitley nexus which stalled parliament over Coalgate was never serious about the PM’s resignation; they only wanted to compel the government to expose the list of coal block beneficiaries among whom is Gadkari’s close friend and business partner (Sancheti)

It is clear that these are diabolical games being played out ahead of Gadkari’s anointment as party president for a second continuous term – a privilege that has not been afforded to even Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi in the past. So fierce has competitive politics gotten in this country that even nephews do not spare their uncles these days (as seen from the Bal Thackeray-Raj Thackeray split and now Ajit Pawar’s bid to grab the Nationalist Congress Party from his own uncle, Sharad Pawar). So, although Gadkari may have a broad back, he should know that discretion is the better part of valour and loose talk is detrimental to one and all but highly injurious to the health of every politician!

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