For the second time in less than a month, the Bharatiya Janata Party has had to speak up on behalf of its president Nitin Gadkari. The first was when anti-corruption activist Anjali Damania alleged that he refused to take a stand on the irrigation scam in Maharashtra citing business relations with Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party. Even before she had named Mr. Gadkari, the BJP jumped in to say that the party president and Ms Damania had never met. It was Ms Damania’s word against the BJP leader and few will believe such a nexus is impossible. The BJP admittedly goofed up in its eagerness to issue a denial because documents the party later released showed that Mr Gadkari had indeed met Ms Damania. This time round, a relieved BJP pantheon dismissed the disclosures by India Against Corruption which showed the NCP’s Ajit Pawar had granted Mr. Gadkari’s NGO favours while allotting land plots acquired from farmers in Vidarbha.
Mr. Gadkari is contesting the next Lok Sabha polls and there is reason to believe he is keen on becoming Prime Minister. At a time when a clean image could help, the Damanias and Kejriwals have come along with a sheaf of documents. Even if the BJP brushes aside the latest allegations, there is a perception created in the public mind about an unholy nexus and quid pro quo. Mr. Gadkari’s detractors within the BJP too had to defend him sotto voce. It is significant that two new entrants from the BJP into politics in Maharashtra are Mitesh Bhangdia, MLC and Ajay Sancheti, Rajya Sabha MP. Both are leading contractors from Vidarbha and both are said to be close to Mr. Gadkari. Mr. Bhangdia had NCP support too in his election triumph. The old cliché — in politics there are no permanent enemies — is operative here and the rightwing parties and the Congress-NCP have been rather chummy by all accounts in Maharashtra. So the Shiv Sena supports Pratibha Patil and later Pranab Mukherjee for President, while the NCP has teamed up with the BJP to control corporations and local bodies. It may be difficult to prove a nexus between political parties in a court of law but the insinuation is enough to a weary public that has long suspected it. Mr. Kejriwal’s exposé may not have been the bombshell the BJP expected but it is damaging to the party that aims to make a difference. The question is whether these sporadic allegations and exposures can sustain themselves in the public mind till the next general elections. In any case, no party can afford to ignore them, especially in the age of the Right to Information when documentary evidence of impropriety and wrongdoing abounds.