Kirit Somaiya: A champion of causes or selective crusader?
Strap: He may be the opposition’s bête noire but there is no putting him down Blurb: Somaiya is perceived as a shallow leader who has not done anything constructive for the state or Mumbai outside his constituency
Strap: He may be the opposition’s bête noire but there is no putting him down
Blurb: Somaiya is perceived as a shallow leader who has not done anything constructive for the state or Mumbai outside his constituency. That is the reason why he is not liked by other leaders and leadership within his party. Secondly, he often faces the charge of leaving the issues, haphazardly. It raises doubt over his intention. He hogs limelight but has failed to garner respect for himself despite it.
Hemant Desai, political analyst
Mumbai: Kirit Somaiya, 68, is a man of many faces – sometimes a crusader against corruption, at other times an opportunist trying to be in the good books of bosses. He is at once an asset to the party and an unguarded missile so much so that no one wants to own him.
Whatever be his chosen profile, the vice president of state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ensures he is always in news.
His penchant for drama draws public’s attention on him – recently he brandished a giant Thor-like hammer to mark the demolition of an alleged illegal resort in Dapoli belonging to Shiv Sena leader, Anil Parab. With similar flourish, in 2014 he arrived at a Ghatkopar railway platform, to measure the gap between the platform and the footboard of a suburban train to highlight incidents of passengers meeting their end slipping through the crevices.
Somaiya was born into a middle-class Gujarati family in Mumbai. A meritorious chartered accountant, he ran a CA firm before taking the plunge into politics. Earlier, while in college, he was an enthusiastic worker in the BJP youth wing, and gradually rose to find a place in the state assembly from Mulund constituency. He also worked as president of Mumbai unit of BJP.
Somaiya’s appointment itself was controversial – he won the ticket after veteran BJP leader Wamanrao Parab from the same suburban Mumbai constituency was sidelined. At the time Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde were looking for young leadership in state BJP and Somaiya became one of the beneficiaries.
“Munde and Mahajan chose leaders like Somaiya, a seasoned Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha hand by now, to contest the assembly polls in 1995. He had unsuccessfully contested 1985 Assembly from Opera House in south Mumbai and stood third with 24% vote. Somaiya relocated to Mulund which is where he built his support base,” said a veteran BJP leader from Mulund.
As an MLA, he was the voice of small investors victimised by a series of scams in stock market, investment schemes and cooperative banks. He formed Investor Grievances Fourm and filed public interest litigations (PIL) in the courts.
Somaiya reminisced that his most memorable work was “the expose of ponzi schemes like one ran by CU Marketing”. Its network was pan-India and Somaiya brought in the Maharashtra Protection of Interest of Depositors (In Financial Establishments) Act in 1998, which was later adopted nationally during Modi government’s first term.
His team then went after finding dirt on benami properties, shell companies, cross ownership through shell companies and land transactions.
“He smartly uses information available in public domains – websites of ministrys and corporate affairs. Both the aggrieved and those with vested interest approach him for information,” said a close associate.
In 1999, the party fielded him for Lok Sabha elections from the Mumbai north-east constituency and he defeated Congress heavyweight Gurudas Kamat. He however lost to Kamat in 2004 and to NCP’s Sanjay Patil in 2009.
The Modi wave put him back in the saddle. He managed to gain a Lok Sabha seat but was denied party ticket in 2019, as Shiv Sena opposed his candidature. The party fielded Manoj Kotak, a corporator from Mulund who was elected as BJP-Sena alliance nominee. This deepened Somaiya’s bitterness with Shiv Sena.
Taking on Sena
The Shiv Sena-Somaiya dispute dates back to the 2017 Mumbai civic polls. Though the erstwhile saffron partners were running the government in the state together, they decided to contest Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections separately. BJP saw Shiv Sena as an obstacle to their hold over Mumbai.
It was fertile ground for Somaiya to launch a personal attack on Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray by calling him ‘mafia of Bandra’. Thackeray did not take it well and many in BJP believe that it was one of the reasons why he developed a grudge against the BJP leadership.
Sena top brass was categorical about not supporting Somaiya from Mumbai north-east constituency. Somaiya lay low for a while until things changed when Shiv Sena parted ways with BJP and formed the government with NCP and Congress.
He now trained his guns on NCP ministers such as Sunil Tatkare over irrigation scam and Chhagan Bhujbal over Maharashtra Sadan scam. It was however seen as an individual quest and the party rarely backed him.
In the run-up to the civic polls in 2017, when BJP and Shiv Sena came to face-to-face, Somaiya found the mettle to go after Thackeray as well as Sena leaders such as Sanjay Raut, Anil Parab, Milind Narvekar, Yashwant Jadhav and Pratap Sarnaik. He gathered information on various transactions with the help of friendly central agencies and levelled allegations of corruption, misappropriation or benami transactions. Most of these cases are under probe.
He felt vindicated recently with the demolition of a resort in Dapoli, allegedly linked to Parab. He was the hero again, posing for photo-ops with a giant thermocol hammer in his hands.
Charges against Somaiya
Somaiya levelled allegations of financial irregularities by Raut in Patra Chawl case, a firm formed by his daughters, and a contract of Covid-19 facility given to one of the ‘close aides’ of the Sena leader. This led to a bitter fight between Raut and Somaiya after the former hit back with allegations of siphoning ₹57 crore crowd funded in 2013-14 to preserve India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant following its decommissioning. Raut also alleged that Somaiya and his son had links with Rakesh Wadhwan, an accused in the PMC Bank scam. However, Raut or his party have not been able to provide proofs to substantiate their claims.
An even more serious charge against Somaiya is that of a ‘convenient crusader against corruption’. Detractors from his own party point to cases he abandoned midway.
“He had levelled allegations of money laundering against NCP leaders Hasan Mushrif, illegal investment in sugar factories by Ajit Pawar, but now he is silent on them. He does not speak about the Enforcement Directorate cases against MLAs Pratap Sarnaik and Yamini Jadhav, after they joined BJP’s ruling partner, the Shinde camp. He has conveniently forgotten his own charges levelled against union minister Narayan Rane after the latter joined BJP,” said a BJP leader.
Somaiya headed the Anti-Corruption Scam Expose Committee of BJP as its national convenor and launched a nationwide campaign against the corruption of the then-ruling UPA government. He travelled 16 states and 100 districts but remained blind to scams and corruption by party leaders like former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyurappa.
Shiv Sena’s deputy leader Sushama Andhare recently hit back at him, saying he was deliberately targeting Shiv Sena, following the brief by his party to destabilise the state government led by Thackeray.
Somaiya said, “Shiv Sena allegations have no standing as their own leadership supported the culprits like Pratap Sarnaik or Bhavana Gawli to commit these offences. Thackeray regularised Sarnaik’s five-storey building by taking a decision in cabinet.”
He added, “My fight is against political corruption and abuse of power. I have not withdrawn a single case I lodged for abuse of power.”
According to Mumbai-based political analyst Hemant Desai, “Somaiya is perceived as a shallow leader who has not done anything constructive for the state or Mumbai outside his constituency. That is the reason why he is not liked by other leaders and leadership within his party. Secondly, he often faces the charge of leaving the issues, haphazardly. It raises doubt over his intention. He hogs limelight but has failed to garner respect for himself despite it.”
Desai however said that his contribution in bringing two very important legislations – to protect small investors and repealing coroners courts -- in Maharashtra assembly as an MLA was remarkable.
Somaiya and the party
Once a favourite of former deputy prime minister LK Advani, and closer home, to Pramod Mahajan and Gopinath Munde, Somaiya is not on firm ground with the present incumbent leadership in the state and centre. With Piyush Goyal gaining prominence in successive cabinets led by PM Modi, Somaiya did not have much scope.
“He is the party’s vice president but operates as a stand-alone leader. One cannot assure if he will be able to get the candidature in general polls or his son renominated in BMC polls,” said another party leader.
The politician is however, unfazed. “My work is my mission and there is no intention of getting inducted (in cabinet). I am not an MLA, MP or even an officer bearer at present, despite which I am a most respected and loved. I was provided Z-plus security while fighting the Thackeray sarkar – it shows how the party backs me,” said Somaiya.