No middle path

The BJP must account for Gadkari's corporate funding or relinquish the issue of black money

The charges levelled against BJP President Nitin Gadkari threaten to assume such proportions that the party may have to switch to Plan B. It had amended its constitution to permit its president a second term, indicating that it could think of no one to take his place when his term runs out in December. Now, the choice building up for the party may be: either the Sangh Parivar finds new talent or it relinquishes the only issue the BJP has in hand. In a long dry spell, during which the BJP has been starved both of big or emotive ideas and leaders who have the stature to project them, L.K. Advani's campaign against black money is the only issue the party has appeared to throw its weight behind in recent times, though the veteran's Jan Chetna Yatra last year gathered only a tepid public response. But now that Gadkari has been accused on grounds that centre on black money, the party may have to relegate either its president or its issue.

The campaign against Gadkari was originally launched by India Against Corruption, with allegations that he had suggested a BJP understanding with the NCP in Maharashtra. In hindsight, that was a vague issue. An understanding would only prevent the party from operating as a credible opposition, and its existence could never be proved. But the investigations into Gadkari's company, Purti Power and Sugar Ltd, have produced specific results that are politically more damaging. The registrar of companies is expected to send it a notice soon. Meanwhile, media revelations have thrown up a web of shell companies fronted by drivers, astrologers and bakers linked to Gadkari. The registered addresses of companies have been found to be fictitious or implausible. And in at least one instance, money appears to have been round-tripped. This web of companies, which Gadkari helped to establish a decade ago (though he quit Purti last year), bears an uncanny resemblance to money-laundering operations. And the practice of investing in the name of minor employees is a well-known laundering strategy.

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