Even as the arrest in a money laundering case has put a question mark over senior Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal’s political future, his party colleagues and former aides say his faith in nephew Sameer may have led to the trouble.
“Sameer used to handle everything for Bhujbal, except the political decisions. Nobody questioned him. Bhujbal was dependent on Sameer for everything,” said a former aide.
The enforcement directorate has described Sameer as the “mastermind” in the money laundering case. He is in the ED custody for almost six weeks.
As Bhujbal shot to prominence in state politics in the 1990s, Sameer became his shadow. When Bhujbal became the deputy chief minister, he entrusted the responsibility of political management and his business to Sameer, and not his son Pankaj.
NCP legislators said Sameer’s influence could be felt in Bhujbal’s Mantralaya office, too, during his tenure in the government (as the deputy chief minister or a minister). “Sameer was not a frequent visitor to the office, but Bhujbal’s one or two personal assistants used to directly coordinate with him. They even had direct access to the senior officers in the department headed by Bhujbal,”said a senior legislator.
Sameer, 42, never hid his political ambitions. In 2009, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Nashik constituency and won. After becoming an MP, he created contacts in Delhi’s power circles.
“From deciding who would contest elections for the party in Nashik district (Bhujbal’s bastion) to handling the business run by the family, Sameer was given most of the responsibility. He was regarded as Bhujbal’s right-hand man,”said another Bhujbal aide. “In fact, some well-wishers had complained to Bhujbal about Sameer’s high-handedness and careless nature, but the former did not take it seriously.”
The nature of some of the business ventures and investments have now put Bhujbal in trouble, he pointed out. However, a former minister, who worked with Bhujbal closely, said it was the latter’s fault. “If you are in public life, you need to be careful about your business ventures and what the people around you are doing. You just can’t escape the responsibility of bad decisions,” he said.