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Bofors tormentor to Gadkari shield

- Gurumurthy, the Sangh’s go-to man

New Delhi, Nov. 11: S. Gurumurthy had burst onto the national scene with a flourish in the 1980s when he pursued the Bofors scandal relentlessly with a team that included Arun Shourie and Ram Jethmalani and was presided over by the late media baron Ramnath Goenka.

He called himself Goenka’s adviser.

Those who knew the Chennai-based chartered accountant and the intimidating proprietor of the Express group of newspapers equally well say Gurumurthy was like Goenka’s son, someone he would trust to oversee his business empire and foster his political interests without bringing him into disrepute.

Gurumurthy was red rag to the late Rajiv Gandhi. In 1988, he was arrested for allegedly purloining “confidential” papers relating to the Bofors deal.

At the nadir of its popularity, the Congress government’s act brought instant fame to Gurumurthy, who was feted as another potent symbol of the Rajiv Gandhi dispensation’s intolerance of dissent and probity.

Over two decades on, Gurumurthy’s allies, Shourie and Jethmalani, have parted company even as he persists in “exposing” the Gandhis on a pet issue of his — black money.

As Jethmalani ramped up pressure on the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the BJP to sack Nitin Gadkari, Gurumurthy virtually bailed out the troubled BJP president with a hush-hush “probe” into the charges against him and his Nagpur companies.

Few, if any, in the BJP had any clue that such an exercise was on, until last Tuesday when RSS chief Mohanrao Bhagwat tasked Gurumurthy to brief the party brass on his “findings” that conclusively “established” there was “no wrongdoing” on Gadkari’s part.

At least Jethmalani maintained he was not entirely persuaded by Gurumurthy’s report.

Sources said the RSS and specifically, Bhagwat, were “least concerned” with what the lawyer thought. To them, what mattered was Gadkari had earned a “reprieve”, thanks to Gurumurthy.

Why was he picked for the job?

A source, close to the BJP and the RSS, explained that first, he was an insider because he was associated with the Sangh from his youth, was unabashed about his association and never sundered it even in the organisation’s bad days. “So the trust quotient was complete.”

Second, sources said the Sangh was in “awe” of Gurumurthy’s “investigative” skills and his “ability” to contextualise “facts” and place them in perspective. “The RSS and Bhagwatji too had an open mind on Gadkari. It was not as though they had made up their minds to bail him out and used Gurumurthy to do the job. They wanted to comprehend the charges and thought he was the right candidate to tutor them,” a source said.

Third, Gurumurthy’s consistent “anti-Congressism” went down well with the Sangh.

Sources said its leaders felt the BJP brass was “not uncompromisingly” adversarial towards the ruling party and specifically, the Gandhis. For instance, after endorsing a “study” on black money done by Gurumurthy and his team — that accused the Gandhis of stashing away unaccounted for wealth in foreign banks — and going public on it, L.K. Advani had apologised in writing to Sonia Gandhi. Apparently, that didn’t go down well with the RSS.

Last, he was regarded as “responsible” and not given to “loose talk”.

“Nobody else could have kept the probe as secretive as he did,” a source said.

Apart from his fallout with Jethmalani and Shourie — both of whom blow hot and cold towards the BJP — Gurumurthy, the sources said, seemed willing to go along with the RSS in its Advani put-down. “Gurumurthy couldn’t have been unaware of the fact that Advani barely tolerates Gadkari and doesn’t want him in office for a day longer. Yet, he had to listen to his defence of Gadkari for hours because he came as the RSS’s emissary to him,” a source said.

In that sense, the sources said, he was the quintessential swayamsevak: unquestioningly loyal to the parent in a crunch situation.

No wonder, on Thursday he stepped up his defence of the BJP chief. In several tweets posted on his site, Gurumurthy claimed he would never pronounce a verdict on business matters “unless I verify facts”. He “verified”, and his verdict was Gadkari’s Purti Group had “no political connection”.