Bhatura bagman Ashok Malhotra may eventually manage to keep his cars. But Sheila Dikshit may lose her’s, the one with a blue police beacon on top. Or so she fears, or so her opponents in the Congress are hoping.
But first the fugitive. Malhotra, alleged kingpin of a multi-crore land scandal, returned Monday morning in the most dramatic fashion yet, going on air from the Noida studio of Zee News.
“I am not involved in any scam nor do I have any black money,” he said, adding, “I own 17 cars and six motorcycles.” He added, with a smile, “I have a fascination for VIP numbers.”
Malhotra looked tired and worried, but battle-ready. He deadpanned most of his answers, allowing himself a smile only when he spoke about his fancy cars with fancier registration numbers.
With the CBI after him, Malhotra had fled the city. He said he was in Agra. “I left Delhi as I was scared for my life. The first notice was served only on August 3 and I never intended to evade arrest.”
A posse of CBI men waited patiently for him to finish his interview. CBI director Vijay Shanker said, “I think everyone has a chance to say his side of the story and I don’t mind he chose a television studio as his platform.”
As soon as he was done, the investigators hustled him into a waiting Gypsy and sped off. They hadn’t begun talking to him till late in the evening. He was taken for a routine medical test later. He is doing fine.
But the Congress isn’t. The Delhi unit’s infighting boiled over with three ministers of Dikshit’s cabinet seeking, and getting, an audience with party president Sonia Gandhi. They met very briefly: 6 minutes by one account.
According to party sources, the three ministers — Finance Minister A. K. Walia, Transport Minister Haroon Yusuf and Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely — had sought the meeting to give Sonia their side of the story. Soon after the scandal broke last week, sources close to the chief minister claimed Malhotra was conspiring with her detractors to bring her down. No names were taken but her detractors were not amused. The three ministers refused to talk about their meeting with Sonia, but sources said they complained bitterly about their chief minister and clearly sought a leadership change, citing the 2008 assembly polls as the reason.
Sources said the split in the cabinet became public on Monday with Walia, Yusuf and Lovely on one side; Environment Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan and Industries Minister Mangat Ram Singh on Dikshit’s side and health minister Yoganand Shastri deciding to stay neutral.
This divided cabinet met later to freeze issuing of VIP numbers. For the announcement and the customary post-cabinet photo-op, only Chauhan stayed with the chief minister. The knives are out in Delhi Congress.
And the man responsible for all this, Malhotra, is with the CBI, determined to brazen it out. In fact, he accused the investigating agency of being rude to his ageing mother and beating up his domestic helps. Malhotra is accused of making crores in cahoots with DDA officials by selling plots meant for allotment to slum-dwellers marked for relocation in northwest Delhi's Dheerpur area at exorbitant prices. CBI sources alleged Malhotra was also involved in selling plots in other resettlement schemes of DDA to people with fake identities. The scam reportedly took place between 2000 and 2002. The agency claims to have seized from his home in Mukherjee Nagar incriminating documents related to the scam, Rs 17 lakh cash, seven kg gold and at least 50 luxury cars and 10 motorcycles — all with VIP numbers.
Malhotra told the TV news channel he owns only 17 cars – most of them are small ones like Zen and Santro. A Land Cruiser is his only luxury vehicle coming at Rs 24 lakh. “The rest are all small cars,” he deadpanned. And he is not ashamed of his fascination for registration numbers. “I have a fascination for VIP numbers and I used my contacts in Delhi assembly to get them. I don’t even know how to drive,” said Malhotra. But after raising expectations, he disappointed. He named only two MLAs — Surendra Singh Bittoo and Kunwar Karan Singh. Malhotra just knows them, that’s all. No more. He knows this game well.