Politicians and conflict of interest: Will it ever end?

  • Shailesh Gaikwad, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jun 13, 2016 13:50 IST
Khadse is the latest example of politicians, who landed in trouble because of their family members or close relatives -- wives, sons and daughters or their spouses, nephews and in-laws. (HT File)

It is now a public knowledge why senior BJP leader Eknath Khadse had to resign as the revenue minister. His wife and son-in-law had bought a piece of land, which was in dispute between the original owner and the state government’s Maharashtra Industries Development Corporation (MIDC) that develops industrial estates across the state and maintains them to promote industries. The dispute was being handled by the revenue department. It is alleged that Khadse was looking after the interest of his kin rather than that of the state. Khadse has been denying it and now as the state government is planning to appoint a retired high court judge to probe the same, we will have to wait for the conclusion of the inquiry panel to see if there was any wrongdoing.

What we know for sure is that Khadse faced the allegations of conflict of interest because the people who bought the disputed land were his family members.

Khadse is the latest example of politicians, who landed in trouble because of their family members or close relatives -- wives, sons and daughters or their spouses, nephews and in-laws.

Just before Khadse became the news, it was NCP’s Chhagan Bhujbal. The former deputy chief minister is now in jail for about three months under the charges of corruption and money laundering. He is also facing a case of amassing wealth disproportionate to his known sources of income. In political circles, it is well known that Bhujbal’s financial empire was being handled mostly by his nephew and former Nashik MP Sameer. Chhagan Bhujbal, whose once main occupation was agriculture, including grape-farming back home in Nashik, has diversified businesses ranging from real estate to energy, thanks to an ambitious Sameer. While there is nothing wrong in expanding business legally, undertaking such ventures with ill-gotten money could mean disaster for a politician’s career. In the NCP, they say, senior Bhujbal should not have trusted his nephew too much.

Congress leader Ashok Chavan lost his chief ministership after names of his in-laws appeared on the list of controversial Adarsh housing society’s flat-owners. While he was in the government, the revenue and urban development departments had taken some decisions favouring Adarsh society. He had to pay the price as the question of quid pro quo was raised.

But then he was not the first chief minister of Maharashtra to lose his post over allegations of favouring family members. The ouster of first chief minister of the first Shiv Sena-BJP alliance government, Manohar Joshi, too, was forced by a land controversy in 1999. The urban development department headed by him had changed reservation of a plot in prime Pune area from educational to residential use. The builder in the case was his son-in-law. Earlier in 1986, Congress’ Shivajirao Nilangekar had to step down as the chief minister, following a stricture passed against him by the Bombay high court, as his daughter’s marks were found fudged in the MD (doctor of medicine) examination. Nilangekar had been accused of influencing the same.

Vilasrao Deshnukh had to quit following the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008, as he faced massive criticism over his actor son Ritesh, along with filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma, accompanying him to visit the Taj hotel after the siege of terrorists was ended by NSG commandoes. These are some of the prominent cases. There are a number of politicians who have found themselves in trouble for favouring family members.

So why do politicians resort to such acts that turn out to be their political suicide?

First, it is obvious that they don’t think it to be illegal or unethical or inappropriate. Second, there could be various other reasons -- inability to refuse favours sought by family members or love for children. In some cases, they don’t have control on their family members’ activities.

The sad part is nobody can guarantee that such cases won’t happen again. There won’t be an end to cases of corruption and favouritism in near future...

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