Sometime in the early 1990s when the Shiv Sena and the BJP were yet in the opposition, both at the Centre and in Maharashtra, then state finance minister Ramrao Adik had accorded a lot of concessions to the tobacco industry in one of his annual budgets.
That seemed somewhat strange because usually gutka, cigarettes or bidis are taxed heavily for health reasons rather than the other way round. Many Congressmen fought those concessions during the debate on the budget. So did the BJP, rather fiercely.
When Adik rose to reply to the debate he had some interesting revelations. He said he had received numerous petitions from the tobacco industry for the concessions. But his rider is what took everyone aback. Every single MLA of the BJP hailing from Pune, those who had fiercely opposed the concessions, were the same people who had written passionate requests for those concessions to the finance minister – and the letters were on official letterheads, personally signed. Now, one MLC – a spokesperson of the BJP – who had missed writing the request had made up for it by thanking Adik soon after he had presented the budget. Adik waved all the letters in the House as proof.
I was rather bemused. But an older colleague, a hardened cynic, said rather wryly, “Looks like the tobacco industry has been very active among BJP politicians in Pune.” After some investigation he informed us that the letters had been identical and probably dictated by the same source to one and all.
So I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu as reports filtered out last week about BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s letter to Union water resources minister Pawan Bansal seeking concessions for contractors on irrigation projects, who are essentially his cronies. And I was not surprised that Prakash Javdekar, too, should have copy-pasted an identical letter to the minister – after all, he hails from Maharshtra and cannot but go along with his party president.
No wonder then that both the BJP and the Shiv Sena, whose members (including some from the Thackeray clan) have figured on the list of directors of various companies involved in irrigation projects around Mahrashtra, were silent on the issue and allowed the Congress-NCP government to get away with the scam for so long.
However, there seems to be a fundamental difference between the Sena, the Congress and the NCP on one side and the BJP on the other. While the entire Congress has rallied to the side of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, under attack from Arvind Kejriwal of a newly-formed but yet to be named political party, who is accusing him of quid pro quo in various property deals -- and both Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have come fiercely to the defence of son and nephew respectively on different occasions -- Gadkari seems to have been abandoned by his party and left to his own resources in battling these allegations.
I also wonder why it is Kirit Somaiya, a former BJP MP, who is bringing to light all these facts through various RTI applications. One can understand Somaiya’s need to expose alleged scams against the Congress or the NCP. But why he should be rendering his own party president so vulnerable is beyond my comprehension.
Hailing from the same town as I do, I was privy to the fact that Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh had been snooping around Nagpur for months, attempting to gather intelligence on Gadkari’s business connections, his lifestyle, his sources of income, etc. I was startled when told that Singh, in a style that could be the envy of the best investigators, would ‘casually’ bump into or drop by the homes and workplaces of Gadkari’s friends and neighbours to ferret out as many incontrovertible facts as possible -- I knew then that Gadkari would soon be in his firing line. If I did not know better, I would say that both Somaiya and Singh are working in tandem and to a single game plan. But, I guess, Singh is targeting Gadkari because he has taken cheap potshots at Sonia Gandhi. Somaiya’s moves, on the other hand, could be part of a larger BJP conspiracy to deny Gadkari smooth passage in his bid for a second term as party president.
For Gadkari may have many friends but, as a potential PM candidate, he also seems to have made too many enemies. And his own party is proving his Trojan Horse!