Nitin Gadkari has been a good friend for decades – we first met at a model educational parliament in Nagpur organised for university students by the late Dr Shrikant Jichkar who was then the president of the students union at the university. We got along like a house on fire and his overlying RSS ideology never once got in the way of my liberal, secular philosophies – I have always held up our friendship as an example of the ability of differing ideologies to co-exist.
In our intermittent meetings, Gadkari was always a delight to speak to –always politically incorrect, giving away most secrets and having no false pretences. His on-record information was always so explosive that his off-record chats were often inconsequential. In fact, I got to know of many of the intrigues between the Congress and the BJP from him – Nagpur was always a Congress bastion but there were so many factions within the party that rival groups had no qualms about joining hands with Gadkari to defeat their own party. Gadkari, of course, was always willing to help – in the interest of his party. It took him 20 years to erode the Congress base but eventually he wrested Nagpur from the Congress and did the RSS- never able to influence the cosmopolitan Nagpur- proud.
But his refreshing honesty – and the fact that he shared these inside games with a journalist – also meant Gadkari did not know the meaning of discretion. This is the reason he got into trouble over his own dealings with his Purti group of companies. I could almost hear him tell AAP activist Anjali Damania – who later contested an election against him – that he could not take up any issue against former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar because, as he said, the Pawars were his close friends – I had known for long exactly how and why. From the horse’s mouth, I might add.
Over the years, he has shared with me and other journalists, who do not claim a friendship, exactly who among us he has benefitted and how – while a PWD minister in the first Shiv Sena-BJP government in Maharashtra he helped many acquire homes and cars, funded their foreign tours and loaded them with gifts. And he named them all. At least I guarded those secrets carefully but I know I am not the only one who, well, knows.
It was this background that was behind his statement during the assembly elections that “this was the time for journalists to make as much money as possible” which got him a severe reprimand from not just the election commission but also from several journalists’ orgaisations who were not amused.
But that did not stop him any – he sat with an open house in Nagpur during the last session of the legislature in the state’s winter capital and as journalists dropped in and out, he recounted to the incoming group exactly what he had gifted to the outgoing group, somehow marring the pleasant exercise of gifting during the festive season.
It is this kind of honesty and failure to be secretive that gets him into personal trouble as well -over his benami properties in Adarsh housing society and now in the award of a road contract in Jammu and Kashmir to a company in which his son has interests. There is thus only one word for Nitin Gadkari – incorrigible.
So my advice to people like Asha Parekh, who allegedly lobbied with Gadkari for a Padma Bhushan, is – DON’T. It might be rather more circumspect to choose another minister in the union government who will not publicly give away these secrets.
But since Asha Parekh is one of my favourite actors– in fact, the only one I ever idolised – I might say a word in her defence. Lobbying is the accepted norm for such awards, as I saw over the years as a political correspondent - the chief minister’s office usually receives hundreds of recommendations each year but, what is important is, no one knows who the members of the jury are. They operate in complete secrecy and are given little time to finalise the names lest anyone get to know or even get to them.
I am sure such lobbying will not cease any time soon. But if Gadkari does not learn that discretion is always the better part of valour, he may soon be out of friends.