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Kejriwal did enough to damage Gadkari's image

Last updated on: October 18, 2012 11:58 IST
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BJP President Nitin Gadkari may have got away with activist Arvind Kejriwal's so-called weak allegations but his businessman image, which has clearly come out in the open, will stick, writes Sheela Bhatt 

Gadkarisahib ka bahut bada business empire hai (Gadkari sir has a very big business)," roared Arvind Kejriwal, leader of India Against Corruption, at the press conference called to "expose" Bharatiya Janata Party's president on Wednesday.

Kejriwal got more cameramen than Saif Ali Khan and Kareena did in their wedding. But the titillation, which news channels viewers are addicted to in political events, was missing.

Kejriwal said, "Gadkari has five power producing industries and three sugar industries in Maharashtra. And that is the reason why he did not wish to raise the issue of corruption in irrigation dams. In a short span, he has built a huge business empire with more than 15 companies in sectors, including construction, sugar, distillery, power, coal, agro, etc."

If compared to the expose on Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the case of favours done by Maharashtra's ruling Nationalist Congress Party's powerful leader Ajit Pawar for Gadkari in the Vidarbha area of the state was much less sensational, and much less spicy.

If compared to the media hype, Kejriwal could not get enough arsenal against Gadkari to make him shy away from camera as it happened in case of Vadra.

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Nevertheless, his allegations were nuanced; touching the concept of development, land allocation and environment. Kejriwal tried to show how Indian politicians disregard these to pursue their own interests.

Gadakri himself came on camera to dismiss the allegation. His party's senior leaders were huddled together by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to reach out to the media and defend Gadkari.

They performed their duty quite well, but one issue will dodge Gadkari always. Kejriwal has successfully damaged his image by merely branding him as a ruthless businessman.

Any president of a political party has certain political image, the way Advani and Vajpayee enjoyed. Indian political parties are not yet openly run by businessmen-turned-politicians who keep signing deals for their companies while talking about serious national issues. 

Since 2009 when he arrived in New Delhi from Nagpur, Gadkari could never create a serious political aura around him. He could renew his term only because of RSS's dictates to BJP.

When he tried to put contractors and deal makers in assemblies and Rajya Sabha, his own image got tainted. He has gifted an Ajay Sancheti kind of a businessman to the BJP. At best Gadkari has been able to manipulate few things and few leaders in his favour.

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Gadkari does have some unique qualities. He is a doer. He has gone in-depth in issues related to infrastructure building in India.

Former Prime Minister Vajpayee entrusted him with a serious job after his successful stint in building roads in Maharashtra. He is less complicated than most of his party leaders.

When compared to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Gadkari is open to ideas and easy to work with.  

But Kejriwal's press conference and certain revelations gave one of the important reasons behind his failure to build his image of a national political leader.

The mix of business with politics, that too if overtly done, doesn't go down well with the Indian electorate. It is not normal or natural for a party president to keep talking about apolitical, that too business-related, issues instead of deliberating more cerebral issues of national interests.

Whenever Gadkari has gone to see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh or whenever he met Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan for official work, his talks would veer around his business in his home town.

He brands himself as a 'social entrepreneur', but nobody would buy his argument.

The Purti group, which he built up, is his asset. Hundreds of Members of Parliament, including Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel, Kamal Nath and P Chidambaram's families, have huge businesses but none flaunts them the way Gadkari does.

Early this year, the crores of rupees that he blew away in his son's wedding was startling. More than 5,000 people were invited to the two wedding receptions.

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Kejriwal's press conference brought out the fact that Gadkari, in essence, is a man with too many business interests behind him. The sharp perception went out that there is a conflict of political and business interests. Gadkari will have to struggle to correct the image. 

Whoever has covered rural India and particularly the sugar belt of Maharashtra and edible oil lobby of Gujarat knows well that the business interests of political leaders of different parties move on in tandem.

They help each other to expand their financial interests under the garb of co-operative societies and non-government organisations.

The co-operative societies are fertile ground for corruption for business-minded politicians and politically-sharp businessmen. The unholy nexus of rival political parties are behind the growth of co-operatives in Maharashtra.

Corruption, deception, hectic political activities and even crime is common in some co-operatives. 

Since land is more easily available to co-operatives and NGOs they create their business model in such way that agro-based industries get government-funded protection and also get many benefits by political coercion.

If Gadkari is growing and selling cheaper or subsidised saplings on the controversial land he is not doing out of his pocket money.

In Gadkari's case the allegation (yet to be proved) is that Ajit Pawar helped him get a village land while ignoring the claim of the original land owner. Gadkari has not denied that his NGO got the land's possession. His argument is that the farmer who wanted that land was paid by the government back in 1984.

Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Gadkari himself gave the defence quite smugly because they were relieved to see that Kejriwal has not got something as explosive as what he hurled at Vadra.

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But the aspect that these BJP leaders would not say is that just because there is a unholy nexus between politicians in Maharashtra, Gadkari got the land.

Ajit Pawar, then irrigation minister, approved Gadkari's plea but not the plea of the original land owner Ghadghe of Umred village in Vidarbha. If Pawar had allotted the same plot to Ghadghe it would have been legal, too. But, he is not part of the powerful nexus, which Kejriwal terms 'mafia-nexus'.

Kejriwal says, "According to rules, excess land should either be returned to farmers or leased out to them for farming. Flouting these rules and despite repeated requests from farmers, the excess land was handed over to Nitin Gadkari's organisations by Ajit Pawar." 

Kejriwal adds, "This was also in violation of rules because land belonging to irrigation department cannot be transferred or leased to private organisations. When farmers protested, they were threatened by Gadkari's henchmen."

In giving some details against Gadkari's case, Kejriwal seemed to be overstating.

Gadkari may get away with the so-called weak allegations but his "businessman" image, which has clearly emerged, will stick. 

Gadkari himself has habit of boasting how his empire in Maharashtra is worth more than Rs 200 crore. He has made a short film, centring around him, on his various businesses, social and co-operative interests.

His "ideas on development" are well-documented in his book titled Vikas ke path. Few months after his arrival in New Delhi, in presence of Advani, he had organised the programme to propagate how he employs 10,000 people and how he experiments with new ideas in his private ventures.

Advani and Jaitley were feeling awkward to see the film that eulogised Gadkari's business skills. When the battle of leadership starts in BJP, Gadkari will know why his emphasis on money is not always good politics, particularly in building a pan-India stature for himself.



Related News: Gadkari , BJP , Ajit Pawar , Kejriwal , Jaitley

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