THE prospects of Nitin Gadkari getting a second term as BJP president came under a cloud on Tuesday as Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily said he had sought a “discreet inquiry” into whether there had been any violations of the Companies Act in the funding of Nagpur-based Purti Power and Sugar Ltd (PPSL), in which Gadkari has a stake.
With allegations coming forth over irregularities in PPSL funding, Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding an inquiry by the Serious Fraud Investigation Organisation (SFIO).
The charges come less than a week after Gadkari was thought to have emerged unscathed from charges levelled against him by political activist Arvind Kejriwal.
BJP Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani fired the first salvo at the BJP president, suggesting that Gadkari step down. Though senior RSS leaders Bhaiyyaji Joshi and Suresh Soni had held detailed deliberations with the party top brass last week after Kejriwal’s allegations and were learnt to have forged a consensus on a second term to Gadkari, sources said there may now be a rethink.
The issue may come up during the Akhil Bharatiya Karya Kari Mandal (All India National Executive Council) meeting of senior RSS functionaries slated for November 2-4 in Chennai. The RSS national executive comprising the Sangh Parivar’s top 20-plus leaders is likely to meet ahead of the meeting on October 31 and sources in the BJP as well as the Sangh said the charges against Gadkari may be discussed at this meeting.
Publicly, the BJP maintained a brave front, reminding that Gadkari had already offered to face any probe and seeking to turn the tables against the Congress. It asked whether the ruling party would treat Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and former steel minister Virbhadra Singh in the same fashion.
“ The BJP is not afraid of probity. Our president has offered to face any probe. The question is whether the Congress will apply the same yardstick of probity against Vadra and Singh,” BJP general secretary Dharmendra Pradhan said.
Jethmalani, however, sought Gadkari’s resignation saying there was “suspicion about his integrity”. Speaking to the CNN-IBN channel, he said: “In the interest of the party, in his own interest, he should get out of the fray now and he must give the position to somebody who inspires greater confidence. He should not aspire for a second term. Obviously, there is suspicion about his integrity... In the coming elections we are fighting against corruption and we have to have a man of absolute impeccable integrity.”
His statement assumes significance in the wake of his open pitch for projecting Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.
So far, only a clutch of senior party leaders have demonstrated their backing for Gadkari’s second term while most have maintained silence. While former party presidents Rajnath Singh and Venkaiah Naidu indicated their backing by moving and supporting an amendment of the party constitution that enabled a second term for Gadkari during the party’s National Council meeting last month, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj lent her weight when she chided Kejriwal for trying to influence the BJP’s move to grant “second term for Nitinji”. The party’s other senior leaders have stayed silent, hinting at their ambivalence on the matter.
In his letter to the PM, Digvijaya Singh referred to media reports regarding PPSL and also a report compiled from the official site of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. On the basis of these reports, Singh said, it appeared that the companies that bought equity in PPSL “appear to be defunct companies, which hadn’t done business for a long time”. He questioned how “out of nowhere”, these companies had got the capital to buy equity in PPSL, “most likely from another layer of shell companies”. Most of these companies had given bogus addresses and four names were common among board of directors of all the 18 companies, Singh said.
“ It is also interesting to note that all the companies have used a single email id... All the above facts are strong enough to merit an enquiry by the SFIO... Being the national president of the BJP, it is in the fitness of things that his (Gadkari’s) case is properly investigated and he gets a fair opportunity to prove his innocence and clear his name,” stated Singh, who incidentally wrote the letter in his individual capacity and not as a Congress general secretary.
Corporate Affairs Minister Moily said the Registrar of Companies will “definitely inquire into (the matter)”. “We have not ordered anything... Since it has come in the public domain, we told our ministry to make some discreet inquiry to find out what exactly is the matter,” he said.
Asked if Vadra’s business deals with DLF would also be investigated, the minister said the two issues were separate.