The business of being Gadkari
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On December 20, 2009, the narrow lanes around the Sangh Building that houses the RSS headquarters in old Nagpur's congested Mahal area were choc-a-bloc with people waiting for Nitin Jairam Gadkari to arrive after his surprise appointment as Bharatiya Janata Party's national president. After four hours of wait, when the huge procession wound its way from the airport to Gadkari Wada (his residence), slogans rent the air and admirers jostled to garland the BJP's young new face. Three years down the line, Gadkari, now 55, finds himself besieged once again—by TV cameras and journalists who are chasing him over his alleged misdemeanours as a sugarcane industrialist heading his Rs 500 crore Purti Group. This time, the BJP's not-so-new face is refusing to show up. It's no more business as usual for an embattled Gadkari.
The last few weeks have seen Gadkari's image of a 'politician-cum-social entrepreneur' take a beating with allegations of cronyism and conflict of interest in the running of his business. First, Arvind Kejriwal and his India Against Corruption accused his Purti Group of land-grabbing and later, reports emerged that many of the companies that had invested in his business were shell companies with fake addresses. Also, several of these companies had Gadkari's personal staff—his driver, even astrologer—as directors.
Since his early days in Nagpur, when he rode his Lambretta to distribute Jan Sangh pamphlets to newspaper offices, Gadkari's biggest strength has been his ability to network. So while he made friends with people with diverse political leanings, he endeared himself to the RSS too.
Gadkari, born in a family of RSS followers, took to politics early on. In the mid-70s, during his student days, Gadkari was active in the BJP's Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad. After his MA, LLB, and diploma in business management, he successfully contested the election to the state Legislative Council at the age of 32. In 1992, he led the BJP to win its first-ever municipal polls in Nagpur, thus establishing his leadership skills. In 1995, at the age of 38, he became Maharashtra's PWD minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government. Gadkari is married to Kanchan and has two sons Nikhil and Sarang and daughter Ketki.