New Delhi, Sept. 6: The BJP’s campaign against the Congress in the coal controversy has got defensive since Union minister Jairam Ramesh flagged the name of Ajay Sancheti, a party MP in the Rajya Sabha and close friend of chief Nitin Gadkari.
Ramesh yesterday alleged at a media conference in Parliament that Sancheti, who claims he and the BJP chief grew up together in Nagpur, was allotted a coal block by the Chhattisgarh government in contravention of rules.
BJP sources said the situation that was emerging out of the volley of punches and counter-punches was a replay of the Centre-versus-Karnataka scenario of 2010.
That year the BJP had feasted off a string of scams that bedevilled the UPA from the 2G and CWG scandals to the Adarsh Housing controversy, hoping to do a Bofors encore. But soon enough, then chief minister of Karnataka, B.S. Yeddyurappa — showcased as a “major southern BJP leader” — had the Lokayukta snapping at his heels.
He was implicated in irregular land and mining deals, was chargesheeted and resigned.
Even Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj’s name was mentioned because of her alleged association with the Reddy brothers of Bellary who faced graft charges. “The burnish on our campaign went away,” a source admitted.
Asked about Sancheti’s alleged involvement in the coal allocation controversy, BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar fought shy of mentioning him by name. “Our states adopted a global tendering process that was executed with utmost transparency,” Javadekar said. “Whoever won the bid got coal mines.”
In a note selectively handed out to journalists independently a few days ago, Sancheti had claimed there was “no allotment” of coal block, that the block was secured by competitive bidding and tendering and the Chhattisgarh government continued to remain the majority stakeholder.
Sancheti also maintained that the coal block his company, SMS Infrastructure, secured was “commercial in nature” and, therefore, “freely traded” coal in the market for “any purpose, with no end use specified”.
He contended that he won the bid in 2008, two years before joining “active politics” and four years before becoming an MP.
Sancheti claimed his company — which is into roads, irrigation, tools, mining, etc. — was in coal mining for a “long time”, owned and operated a mine in Indonesia, and in India had key clients that included PSUs Western Coalfields and South Eastern Coalfields.
Although Sancheti said he was a relative newcomer to politics, his family has had long-time links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. His father, Shaktikumar, was a full-time RSS activist in Kanpur several years ago.
His friendship with Gadkari dated back to their days in Sangh shakhas. Sancheti’s company had bagged several infrastructure projects when Gadkari was Maharashtra’s public works minister.
Several BJP leaders were unhappy with Gadkari’s move to make his friend a member of the party’s national executive and then the Rajya Sabha.
Gadkari has been chilling out in Canada. He is scheduled to return on September 12.
The BJP president is angling for a second term but party sources said the Sancheti episode might cast a cloud on his ambitions.