New Delhi: India Against Corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal's new target on Wednesday was Bharatiya Janata Party President Nitin Gadkari, He called Gadkari a businessman and accused accused of grabbing farmers' land and corruption in collusion with NCP's Ajit Pawar. Kejriwal has said that businessmen should stay out of Parliament. Speaking to CNN-IBN, Kejriwal said, "There are large number of businessmen who are sitting in Parliament and they are also in the same committees which are making the policies on the business that they are in. For instance Mr Vijay Mallya is there in the aviation committee. There is a direct conflict of interest."
While Gadkari defended himself on Wednesday saying the company that he's a part of is a co-operative and it works in the interest of the farmers, Kejriwal rejected the defence saying, "You take it away from the farmers, you snatch away the land from them and you say that you are building a charitable institution on that. I think that's not acceptable." India Against Corruption is also set to reply to Gadkari's defence on Thursday.
Meanwhile, BJP continued to rally behind Gadkari dismissing the charges as 'laughable'. When asked whether Kejriwal's revelations were an embarrassment, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad, "I don't see the question at all. This whole thing has come from IAC activists' keenness to draw an equivalence and make a space for themselves and today they include the entire spectrum of India's polity. We have known that. Good luck to them. Let them go for an election campaign. But it was without substance, it was just a kind of hit and run." "Today IAC has made an allegation. That allegation fell flat. We have dealt with it and we will carry on and move on," he added.
Accusing Gadkari of taking over land taken away from a farmer in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, Kejriwal said Gadkari was promoting his business interests at the cost of farmers. "Whose interests does Gadkari represent? He has a very big business empire. His interests are clashing with those of Vidarbha's farmers?" the activist-cum-politician said.
Soon after Kejriwal levelled the allegations, Gadkari rejected charges that he had acquired land in Maharashtra in an improper manner and expressed readiness for any kind of probe while his party leaders rallied behind him. Gadkari dismissed these as "baseless, wrong and unfortunate" and said the activist-turned-politician was trying to usurp the opposition space in collusion with Congress whose image has suffered due to corruption cases. "The allegations of land (grabbing) are absurd. Land has been given on lease to a charitable trust which functions like a cooperative. It is not owned by me," Gadkari said. "I am ready for any kind of probe," he said, while claiming that the land (about 100 acres) was a wasteland valued at only Rs 20 lakh.
Senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley rallied behind Gadkari, claiming he had done no wrong and the allegations were "false and baseless". Addressing a joint press conference, the two leaders took a dig at activist-turned-politician Kejriwal, saying he was rubbishing all parties to "hog the limelight".
Earlier, Kejriwal targeted Gadkari accusing him of receiving personal favours by getting around 100 acres of agriculture land in Maharashtra after the Congress-NCP government there bent rules. Utilising a much-hyped press conference here to "expose" Gadkari, the activist-turned-politician alleged that all parties were involved in a cosy relationship of "looting" the country even though they raise issues against each other just for the sake of it.
Specifically, Kejriwal alleged a quid pro quo between BJP and Congress-NCP government of Maharashtra, saying Gadkari and his party maintained "silence" over various issues of corruption like the irrigation scam surrounding the Maharashtra government. Aided by lawyer Prashant Bhushan and another IAC activist from Maharashtra Anjali Damania, Kejriwal alleged that rules were bent by the Maharashtra government, particularly scam-tainted former Irrigation Minister Ajit Pawar to benefit Gadkari.
He claimed that vast tracts of land were acquired from farmers for building a dam in Umred taluka in Nagpur district and excess land that should have been returned to the farmers was given to Gadkari and his company following Ajit Pawar's intervention. The state government, which had rejected in 2002 the farmers' demand for return of the excess land, took the decision to give it to Gadkari within days of his request in June 2005, Kejriwal alleged.
Claiming to have letters signed by Ajit Pawar, he said that the then Irrigation Minister influenced the Vidharbha Industrial Development Corporation even though its secretary objected, saying it could not be done "legally". "There has been a conspiracy. BJP has betrayed the country. People had hoped that BJP will point fingers at the ruling party when it falters. But to increase his business empire, Gadkari has done setting with ruling parties. Gadkari is not a politician. He is not in politics. He is using BJP to increase his business interests. Now the party has also amended its Constitution to give him a second term as president," Kejriwal claimed.
He said Gadkari's business links were harming the interests of farmers. Kejriwal alleged that the state government acquired excess land and did not give it back to farmers as per law. Giving an example, he said one Gajanan Ghagde had approached the government seeking return of his land. But the government sat on it for almost two years but when Gadkari wrote a letter seeking transfer of the same land to him, Pawar wrote a letter recommending it in four days, he alleged. "There was action on Gadkari's letter very fast but a representation by the farmer did not get any response for two years. And when it came, they were not given back," Kejriwal said.
He said Gadkari has a big business empire and his interests range from power to sugar to ethanol. When asked about allegations that she raised the irrigation scam because her land was being acquired, Damania rejected the allegations and said government letter has made it clear that whose land were acquired would get money or land in return.
Congress on Wednesday demanded the opposition party clarify before the nation the "very serious" allegations against Gadkari. "We give the opportunity to BJP first to clarify each and every allegation before the nation. We are waiting for the answer from BJP first", party spokesman Rashid Alvi said when asked for his reaction to Kejriwal's charges against Gadkari.
(With additional inputs from PTI)