Ahmedabad, April 18: Rising star yesterday, “liability” today.
In fact, so complete is Babubhai Katara’s fall from grace that even staying in Gujarat could be a problem for the Dahod MP.
Less than a month ago, at a tribal convention on March 25, chief minister Narendra Modi had described Katara as a “rising star among tribal leaders”. Today, after he was caught trying to allegedly smuggle a woman and a boy on a Delhi-Canada flight using the passports of his wife and son, he has virtually become politically untouchable.
Sensing that the MP’s act is indefensible in an election year, the BJP lost no time in distancing itself from Katara. V.K. Malhotra, the party’s deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, said Katara has been suspended.
Even the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the outfit he served before being elected, seems to have deserted him.
“It is a serious matter,” said state BJP chief Purushottam Rupala. “We will not spare him if he is found guilty. The party will take stern action. We don’t want such elements in the BJP. His sin is unpardonable, especially because he happened to be a people’s representative.”
Babu Bajrangi, self-styled head of Gujarat’s moral police, doesn’t want the “dubious MP” to stay in Gujarat.
“The party should expel him. No questions should be asked. Such crooks shouldn’t be tolerated,” Bajrangi said.
“Katara has lost the right to call himself a Gujarati,” he added. “We will drive him out and ensure that he doesn’t come back.”
As television channels flashed news of Katara’s detention at Delhi international airport with the woman, Paramjeet Kaur, his wife Sharadaben and two sons disappeared from their residence in Jhalod.
Reporters who had rushed to the MP’s home found the doors locked. No one in the locality could say where the family had gone.
The office of the Adivasi Yugak Sangh, a non-government organisation the 46-year-old runs, was also closed.
Asked how Katara, who also has a daughter, was as a neighbour, residents differed. Some said the two-time MP, a government employee before the party picked him to contest the Lok Sabha elections in 1999, was genial and accessible.
Others, like Girish Shah, said the non-smoking and strictly vegetarian Katara was “not respected but feared”.
Katara’s political rivals cited his elder son’s criminal background. Bhavesh, who faces more than a dozen cases, was arrested about two months ago in connection with the 2002 riots in Dahod after the case was reopened. He was later released on bail.
Both Bhavesh and Katara’s other son, Amit, were arrested for beating up a police constable in January 2005.
Former Union minister Shantibhai Patel, who represented Godhra, accused Katara of misusing tribal grants. Patel said Katara, who often goes abroad, sought donations for his NGO, which runs schools for tribal students.
Unconfirmed reports said it wasn’t the first time that the MP, suspected to be involved in human trafficking, had tried to take other women abroad on his wife’s passport. He has done it before, they said. But his luck ran out today.