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Religion made Kanda popular in Sirsa, wealth came in Gurgaon

Gopal Goyal Kanda’s career really took off after the INLD government came to power in Haryana in 1999, with O.P. Chautala as the Chief Minister.


Gopal Kanda’s palatial house on the outskirts of Sirsa. PHOTOGRAPH BY ABHIMANYU K. SINGH

he mention of Gopal Kanda, Haryana's absconding former Minister of State for Home, evokes different reactions from people who have known him for a long time.

Umesh Arora, his childhood friend, claims that Kanda is more of a businessman than a politician. "His political history began only in 2009," he says, referring to Kanda's victory in the Assembly elections that year, defeating Lachman Das Arora, a Congress heavyweight. "He did not want to join politics, but was coaxed by others into it," Arora adds. If Arora is to be believed, Kanda's "innocence" has landed him in the biggest controversy of his career. Arora also believes that Kanda should have surrendered to the police. However, Arora's description of Kanda as a reluctant politician paying the price of his naiveté differs from that presented by others.

Raj Kumar (name changed), a senior journalist, says that Kanda's father, Murli Dhar Kanda, a successful lawyer, was also a social worker and enjoyed much goodwill in Sirsa. The family had relations with the family of Om Prakash Chautala, who later became the Chief Minister of Haryana.

His father's reputation helped Kanda. The family was one of the few with access to Tara Baba, a local saint held in great esteem by the inhabitants. Later, Gopal Kanda would build a massive temple complex in the saint's name, called Tarakeshwar Dham, on the outskirts of Sirsa, close to his stunning palatial house, which apparently took 10 years to build. The size and the scale of the temple complex is the centrepiece on which Kanda's goodwill in Sirsa rests which helped elect him in 2009. Spread over 10-15 acres, it is flanked by a school and an eye hospital built by Kanda.

Detractors allege that Kanda’s financial dealings smacked of corruption and that he started MDLR airlines just to launder black money.

According to a senior Congress leader from Sirsa, Kanda's victory in 2009 was because of his image as a man of religion. Tara Baba died in 2002. Since then, on his death anniversary every year, Kanda invites singers and artistes such as Mahendra Kapoor and Hema Malini to perform in the functions.

But all this came after his critical shift to Gurgaon. For all the claims about Kanda being a man of business, his fortunes failed to take off in Sirsa. Kanda started with a small factory to make shoes. He followed it up with a music shop. Later, he started a showroom, Shoe Camp, in Hisaria Bazar, where his family lived. He also started a bigger shoe factory. The shoe showroom is now his office.

"None of his business ventures really worked," says Raj Kumar, the journalist, who has closely followed Kanda's career. "His ancestral house was put up for auction in 1996 or 1997, but it was somehow staved off," adds Kumar. "Woh do-do rupaye ka mohtaj tha (He was almost bankrupt)," says Pankaj Jain, district president of Indian National Lok Dal.

By this time Kanda had begun to cultivate bureaucrats. The then district magistrate, Avatar Singh inaugurated his shoe showroom. He already enjoyed the patronage of Om Prakash Chautala's family, — residents of Sirsa — and was friends with his two sons, Ajay and Abhay. This relationship went awry after Kanda was denied a ticked by the Indian National Lok Dal in 2009.

In 1997, Kanda moved to Gurgaon and started working in the real estate business. But his career really took off after the INLD government came to power in 1999, with O.P. Chautala as the CM.

"He benefited a lot during the tenure of this government. By 2005, he had greatly expanded his business, which included a five-star hotel in Gurgaon, automobile showrooms in Haryana and a casino in Goa," said Kumar. By 2006, Kanda floated the airlines named after his late father, Murli Dhar Lekha Ram. MDLR airlines suspended operations in 2009.

INLD's Jain denies that Kanda acquired his suspiciously large amount of wealth in such a short time because of patronage by the INLD government. He also downplays Kanda's association with the party. However, he admits that Kanda's financial dealings smacked of corruption. He alleges that starting MDLR airlines was just to launder black money for Kanda.

Being on the wrong side of the law was also usual for Kanda, Jain adds. "In 2010, he beat up our workers in Sirsa who had imposed a bandh to protest the visit of Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda," he says.

In 2009, Kanda decided he wanted to fight elections. However, Abhay Singh Chautala refused a ticket to Kanda, says Raj Kumar. "Kanda told me himself. He (Chautala) did not think that Kanda had what it takes to win an election," says Kumar.

Kanda was on good terms with Congress leaders such as Jagdish Tytler. According to the senior Congress leader from Sirsa, Tytler forwarded Kanda's name for a ticket, but the proposal did not work out and Lachman Das Arora got it. L.D. Arora died in June this year. According to the leader, Kanda could have got the Congress ticket to contest the elections in 2014, but the latest controversy has damaged his chances.

Just a few days ago, Kanda flew half-a-dozen friends, including Umesh Arora, to Singapore for a weeklong trip, funded by him. According to Arora, this was typical of Kanda, a man known to be generous with his money: "He would always give money to temples, gaushalas, and for marrying off poor girls." On Thursday, hundreds of his supporters took out a procession in Sirsa, alleging a conspiracy.

However, according to INLD's Jain, Kanda made promises to people regarding giving them money for their needs but never followed up: "He would give some amount but not dispense with the rest." He also claimed that Kanda did not return other people's money that he borrowed.

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