Nothing illegal in land allotment, say Sushma and Jaitley; Gadkari sees conspiracy to divide Opposition votes
A sense of relief swept through the BJP after the press conference of social activist Arvind Kejriwal targeting party president Nitin Gadkari.
Senior leaders, gathered at Mr. Gadkari’s residence as Mr. Kejriwal addressed the press, were unanimous that there was little substance in the allegations levelled by India Against Corruption (IAC), and that if at all anyone had reason to be embarrassed, it was the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in Maharashtra.
Within an hour of Mr. Kejriwal’s news conference, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, addressed the press, terming the charges “false and baseless.” Sources in the BJP said the leadership chose to field two of its senior leaders to address journalists to send out a clear message that the rank and file was behind Mr. Gadkari.
Answering questions on the IAC’s charge that the Maharashtra government had illegally allotted land to a firm run by Mr. Gadkari, Ms. Swaraj and Mr. Jaitley insisted that there was nothing illegal about it.
Asked about Mr. Kejriwal’s contention that the portion of land acquired by the Maharashtra government from farmers for an irrigation project could have only been returned to farmers and not allotted to any other individual or firm, Mr. Jaitely contended that under the “old” Land Acquisition Act, it was the government’s prerogative to allot it to anyone.
Significantly, the major grouse of the BJP leaders against IAC members was that by making baseless charges, they had undermined their own credibility and damaged the credibility of civil society organisations.
“Today’s press conference [of Mr. Kejriwal] was a failed attempt to bring a moral equivalence between the BJP and the Congress… After all the suspense, it was a mountain of what was not even a mole hill…,” Mr. Jaitley said.
They argued that Mr. Kejriwal had failed to prove a “single case of corruption” in its allegations against Mr. Gadkari and said those would be fought politically — and not legally. They said the land was wasteland, where Mr. Gadkari grew sugar cane saplings and gave them to farmers of Vidarbha at subsidised rates.
“A lot of hype was created about the press conference as if some big bomb was being exploded... He [Mr. Kejriwal] tried his best to dig out some scam but could not find anything. We are happy that our … president is not involved in any scam. The party is fully with him,” Ms. Swaraj said.
Outside his residence, Mr. Gadkari told news channels that he was active in the Vidharba region as a “social entrepreneur” to prevent suicides among farmers.
Asked about the charges of quid pro quo and any “setting” between him and the former Maharashtra Irrigation Minister, Ajit Pawar, Mr. Gadkari said: “The Congress’ image is going down owing to corruption cases, and they [the IAC] are trying to defame the BJP to occupy the space of the Opposition party… This is a conspiracy of the Congress and the IAC to divide the Opposition votes.”