Dissident Congress MLA from Vijayraghogarh and mining baron Sanjay Pathak was inducted into the Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday by Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan. This brings to an end weeks of speculation and internecine rivalry within the Congress. Mr. Pathak is the richest MLA in the assembly with declared assets of Rs. 121 crore. His firms are being probed by the Lokayukta in an alleged mining scam.
Last week, Mr. Pathak quit the post Congress state general secretary and sent his resignation, from the Vidhan Sabha, to Congress President Sonia Gandhi. On Monday, he formally sent the letter to Speaker Sitasharan Sharma.
‘No business interests’
Mr. Pathak denied that he defected due to business interests. “I could have defected long back if that was the case. I was a third generation Congressman, but the party of Gandhi and Nehru I was born into no longer exists. It has been captured by a few leaders. I have joined the BJP after Organisational General Secretary Arvind Menon assured me of respect and development in my seat.”
Mr. Pathak had publicly opposed the nomination by the Congress of former minister Raja Pateria by the Congress from Khajuraho parliamentary seat, of which Vijayraghogarh is an assembly segment. Mr. Pateria, a former Cabinet colleague of Mr. Pathak’s father Satyendra Pathak during the Digvijaya Singh regime of the 1990s, had called Sanjay a “dhanpashu” or “money cow.” Mr. Pateria had also sided with locals opposing industrial projects such as Welspun's power plant in Katni and Rio Tinto's Bunder diamond mines. Documents with The Hindu show that in 2010 Mr. Pathak and Khajuraho's BJP MP Jeetendra Bundela wrote to Katni Collector M. Selvendran to crack down on people opposing the Welspun plant. Mr. Pateria had grown into a problem which neither Mr. Pathak nor the corporates could solve on their own.
A senior government source explained, “Mr. Pateria lost the 2009 polls in Khajuraho by a little over 2000 votes, only because Mr. Pathak pulled his men back in the last two days. They still maintained good relations but Mr. Pateria would always take the side of farmers on multi-crop land opposing displacement. Mr. Pathak could not stand the fact that when his workers have problems they go to Mr. Pateria and call him Raja saab (King).”
Mr. Pateria was brought to the Congress from the Janata Dal (JD) by Mr. Digvijaya Singh in the early 1990s after he got into a spat with Laxminarayan Yadav, then JD state president and currently BJP candidate from Sagar. He came into direct conflict with Mr. Pathak during the agitation against Welspun in Katni last November, during the Assembly poll campaign.
Raghu Thakur, president of the Loktanrik Samajwadi Party and a mentor of Mr. Pateria said, “Farmers had begun to commit suicide due to forceful acquisition and they protested by sitting on funeral pyres. Mr. Pathak organised a counter protest. Mr. Pateria was sitting with the farmers and ensured that the Congress' election campaign took a stand against forceful displacement. Mr. Singh sensed that this would lead to a schism in the party and offered to mediate but the farmers refused.” It was a photo finish with Mr. Pathak getting just 1,000 odd votes more than the BJP's Padma Shukla. In 2008 he had won by nearly 23,000 votes. The Congress felt the pulse and threw its lot with Mr. Pateria. A Congress leader told this paper that it was a natural that Mr. Pathak had to look for a new benefactor. “There was no point trying to control him. He was damaging the party but he has been contained,” he said. The party's state vice president Manak Agrawal said that Mr. Pathak was persona non grata for the party after he began badmouthing Mr. Pateria and the party chose to ignore him.
Mr. Pateria said that people have begun to revolt against Mr. Pathak's henchmen in Gunnor and Shah Nagar. “He stands exposed. People will eventually stand against injustice,” he said. “The battle for Khajuraho is not between Mr. Pateria and the BJP's Nagendra Singh. It is between Mr. Pateria and Welspun. Ironically Nagendra Singh himself is not comfortable with forceful displacement. Only time will tell if Mr. Pathak's gamble to retain his clout is successful,” Mr. Thakur said.