ou can be forgiven if you believe that Nitin Gadkari's is the only scam in town. Saturation coverage by television channels in the past couple of days should have ordinarily left no one in doubt that he is at the centre of the biggest scam of our times. Even newspapers which have virtually become an extension of the ruling establishment seemed to have suddenly discovered merit in Gadkari's financial shenanigans, splashing as front-page lead the alleged wrongdoing by his companies while being completely oblivious to the humongous misdeeds of the leading lights of UPA.
Admittedly, it is hard to take on the incumbent powers. Editors simultaneously charged with the responsibility of keeping a close watch on the bottom-line, theirs and the paper's, have to necessarily suck up to the corporate and political bosses — never mind the pretence in social and professional gatherings. But what of the cash-rich media houses straddling huge print and television empires?
Apparently, a strong word was conveyed that they should leave Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law well alone. Ministers, including I&B boss Ambika Soni, are said to have reached out to the media houses, gently suggesting that further interest in the doings of Robert Vadra and his multifarious business activities would be most unwelcome.
Now, when you treat journalism at par with selling soap cakes it is not hard to fall in line with the political establishment, is it? So, the switch, instead, to Nitin Gadkari's private companies. These were, notably, established in his private capacity and not when he was a minister in the Mahrashtra government. Nor can it be anyone's case that he did something that was out of the ordinary in managing those companies. Yes, he conducted his business affairs like a typical businessman, creating a web of subsidiaries and front companies in order to get round various provisions of the company law.
Of course, when you combine in your person the twin roles of a ranking political leader and a prosperous businessman, there is bound to be a clash of mutually incompatible cultures. Being a businessman in this country means at the very least cutting moral and legal corners. However, as a senior politician heading a major national party you are expected to be above-board both in your private and public dealings. Gadkari would have merrily continued to run his Purti group of companies very much as he pleased had he not come to head the principal Opposition party.
After all, almost anyone with a little toehold in Maharashtra politics has his own cooperative empire of sugar mills, educational trusts, power plants, et al. And that would include the family of the recently-retired President Pratibha Patil whose (mis)use of money and muscle power in Jalgaon is the stuff of many a lurid and violent tale.
Lest it be assumed that Gadkari donning a businessman's hat did what was kosher under the law, we have our reservations. We are persuaded that he too like a majority of businessmen of his ilk tried to get round the legal provisions by resorting to usual subterfuges and plain fudges. Pry open the vast network of such cooperatives in Maharashtra and elsewhere and you will discover that the laudable objective of widely- spread collective ownership of businesses and industries has in effect come to be abused to further the interests of a select few who play a lead role in establishing them. Small wonder the cooperative movement, and/or even Mahatma Gandhi's idea of trusteeship of the means of production, has not aroused much interest in the country. We tend to turn everything into a tool for individual greed, don't we?
However, while Gadkari the business tycoon can look after himself, it is Gadkari the politician that is of great public interest. And it is here that we believe that he is set to become history. After the inspired spotlight on his business affairs, Gadkari the politician will have to bow out of the limelight. His continuance as the head of the BJP has become untenable. The longer he continues as the president of the principal Opposition party, the more harm he would inflict on its public image. He can forget a second three-year term at the helm of the BJP.
Indeed, it would be in the fitness of things if he disarmed his critics, and wiped off the smirk on the faces of the Congress megaphones on the nightly television, by voluntarily bowing out a couple of weeks ahead of the end of his current term due later this year. As a self-avowed swayamsevak, the onus to do the entire Sangh Parivar a good turn is on Gadkari. He should end the daily misery of the BJP by unilaterally announcing that he is not seeking a second term and that he is determined to clear his name through a fair and independent probe into his business affairs.
Should he take that honourable course, the demand that Robert Vadra's mother-in-law too should follow suit and face an independent probe into the rise and rise of the small-time brassware dealer from Moradabad would gain traction. There cannot be different standards to suit the convenience of Sonia Gandhi, even if her loyal sycophants believe that she and her family are pure as driven snow.
Having said that, it is left to the BJP to bolster its claim of being "a party with a difference" by adhering to minimum standards of political morality. Given the long series of multi-billion-rupee scams of the UPA, the principal Opposition party would undermine its anti-corruption campaign by persisting with Gadkari as its president. Like Caesar's wife, the challenger to the corrupt Congress ought to be seen to be untainted. Gadkari, whether he likes it or not, is now tainted with the financial skullduggery of his Purti empire.
But, regardless of the fortunes of the BJP, there is a far more important reason why the party should clean up its act. Disgusted with the all-pervasive corruption, misgovernance and consumer price-inflation, ordinary people are desperately looking for an alternative. If the principal Opposition party too comes to be bracketed with the ruling party, the ubiquitous aam aadmi would lose faith in the democratic system; he would feel helpless in a system which had been corrupted to its core by its practitioners. Such hopelessness will only generate cynicism and cause an alienation which our much-abused democracy can ill-afford. People need to repose their faith in a viable alternative to the ruling coalition. Therefore, for God's sake, Gadkari must quit. Here and now. And go back to managing the Purti group of businesses, leaving the stewardship of the BJP, hopefully, in clean and competent hands.
Meanwhile, we find it rather curious that L.K. Advani should seek to make light of the accusations against Gadkari since he himself had lost no time in voluntarily opting out of electoral politics once his name had surfaced in the hawala diaries. Why should Advani believe that only he can set himself stringent standards of accountability while Gadkari is permitted the benefit of the doubt? This is unacceptable.