The BJP is circling its wagons around its president, Nitin Gadkari, as the government begins investigating charges that a vast business empire he founded was configured with dubious funding. The frontier will need considerable fortification. Two different ministries - Finance and Corporate Affairs - have begun an inquest of Purti Power and Sugar Limited, the 300-crore company that Mr Gadkari helped set up 10 years ago. He resigned as its chairman last year.
Of the 18 different firms that have invested in Purti, many share directors and addresses which appear implausible. Companies are registered at locations like a one-room office in suburban Mumbai's Malad; directors of firms linked to Mr Gadkari include an astrologer, his former driver, and a baker employed by the Purti group.
Purti is registered in Nagpur. Income Tax officials in Mumbai and Pune are deconstructing the source of funding for the companies that bought into Purti. The Corporate Affairs Ministry meanwhile will study whether these firms suppressed or misrepresented financial records.
Yesterday, the BJP's most senior leader, LK Advani, often considered a critic of the party president, offered some support. "The allegations are about standards of business and not misuse of power or corruption." But he also stressed that it is important for the BJP and its leaders to meet exacting standards of probity, a sign that the party privately believes Mr Gadkari may be skating on thin ice.
The BJP has grabbed the recent burst of financial scandals to accuse the government of insuperable corruption. The allegations against Mr Gadkari threaten to asphyxiate his party's campaign ahead of crucial elections in states like Gujarat which will start the engine for the general elections in 2014.
Among the questions put recently to Mr Gadkari was whether there was a conflict of interest in Purti accepting investment and a generous loan from a company who got huge infrastructure construction deals when he was Maharashtra's Public Works Minister. Mr Gadkari said there wasn't. He also said the loan in question was being repaid with interest. THE BAKER, THE ASTROLOGER
Rajesh Khanzode is employed by a bakery firm owned by Purti. He is listed as a director with a firm, which has spent crores on Purti shares. His simple 1-bedroom home is located in the middle-class Khamla area of Nagpur. He is not at home when we reach at 10am on Thursday morning. "He is a production manager at the bakery unit, I don't know if he invested in any companies," says his wife.
Astrologer and vaastu-shastra
expert Vishnu Sharma lives an hour away in a middle-class locality at Narayan Nagar in Bhayandar on the outskirts of Mumbai. He is listed as a director of Ashwami Sales and Earnwell Traders, two firms which collectively invested over five crores in Purti. His wife denies that he has any links to Mr Gadkari's firm; she says Mr Sharma is away to Jaipur. The official address for Ashwami is in a chawl
or low-income colony in suburban Mumbai. There is no company office located here. The Soni family says it has lived at this address for a decade.
Like Mr Sharma, Manohar Panse is shown as a Director in Ashwami Sales and another firm, All Wise Finvets, which has spent three crores on equity in Purti. Mr Panse has served in the past as Mr Gadkari's driver.