Monday, October 29, 2012

It was business as usual ... Power & Politics / The Sunday Standard/ October 28, 2012

It was business as usual, but Gadkari let ambitious foes get a foot in the door

Contrary to the adage, business and politics have never been strange bedfellows in India or any other part of the world. In fact, they always had, and continue to have, a cosy and intimate relationship. Even during the Independence struggle, leading entrepreneurs funded and patronised political leaders. Then, their relationships were confined to the four walls of their courtyards. Like a couple in medieval India, they never played in open grounds and were hardly seen in public.

India and its politics have changed beyond recognition today. It is a matter of pride for both business and political personalities to be seen together, wine and dine together and boast loudly about each other. But this display of camaraderie is costing many leaders their current and future careers. BJP president Nitin Gadkari appears to be the latest victim of politics’ excessive obsession with business. The machinations of corporate conspiracies are casting shadows on Indian politics, as a formidable coalition of political and corporate rivals either try to settle scores with their competitors or capture the decision-making forums in every party.

Gadkari must be ruing the day when he chose to become what he calls a social entrepreneur and “serve the cause of farmers, weavers and other poorer classes” by floating a company or joining a cooperative movement. He would’ve hardly realised that the innovative financial structuring conceived by his chartered accountants for his business venture would endanger his second term as the chief of India’s second largest political party. Nor did Gadkari anticipate that those who privately considered him a culturally crass outsider would leave any opportunity to demolish him before he could consolidate his control over an organisation which is expected to come to power in 2014. Instead of setting his own house and business in order, he fell into a trap of self-promotion by co-opting the same system and individuals who have never allowed any BJP president to succeed. The party’s national leaders have not been able to digest the fact that a small town leader is not only dictating the national agenda, but is also determined to demolish and dismantle the well-entrenched cabal of conspirators who have perpetuated power by stealth, and not by the sweat of hard work.
But Caesar’s wife has to be above suspicion. Unfortunately, Gadkari isn’t. His foes are now exploiting his purported corporate misdemeanours to his disadvantage. They have correctly propagated that the party with a difference can’t have a president who is being probed by various investigative agencies for alleged acts of omission and commission. By opening himself to a probe, Gadkari may have dented the force of the attack on him, but this hasn’t prevented his detractors from amassing more ammunition for more vicious attacks in the future. Gadkari is not in the race for the prime ministership of India. The RSS and other leaders favoured him because they were looking for an individual who would build the party, and not himself. Moreover, they were also convinced that Gadkari would facilitate the anointment of Narendra Modi as the prime minister, in case the Sangh willed it.
Other national leaders with prime ministerial ambitions may oppose such a smooth transition. As the BJP’s youngest party president, age is on Gadkari’s side. But he is seen a potent threat to those who aspire to become the PM. Many party insiders, right or wrong, are of the opinion that, it is those who feel that Gadkari is a formidable roadblock in their way to the top who have targeted him. By mixing his fledgling business empire and political ambitions, Gadkari has made their conspiratorial adventurism a bit easier. Considering the relationship of convenience that some BJP leaders have with the ruling establishment, it is a foregone conclusion that Gadkari will soon be declared guilty on many counts. The only question that remains to be answered is whether the party will brazen it out like the Congress, or dump a person who has been so far seen as a panacea for all the BJP’s ailments.
Gadkari is not the only businessman to follow the well-settled practice of floating dummy companies with dummy directors who sign the minutes of board meetings without even being able to read them. Many of India’s top firms have established thousands of fake companies at home and abroad, with unknown addresses and non-existent individuals. Over 60 per cent of these unlisted companies, which control sensitive sectors that influence public opinion have cooks, drivers, cashiers and washermen as board members. Fortunately, none of them are in politics. Collectively or individually, they either own or exercise remote control over our political system. There is hardly an important social or corporate event in which top business honchos don’t rub shoulders with each other. Earlier, one would rarely find an industrialist accompanying the prime minister or a Cabinet minister on their trips abroad. Now they go as an advance party and even fix highly important meetings with their business partners in various parts of the world.
Such an open partnership may be a necessity for faster economic growth. But if done without checks and balances, it erodes the credibility of those in power. Gadkari ignored these checks and lost his balance only to fall into a political ditch.; Follow me on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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