At centre of RS row,a self-made crorepati,Anna & Ramdev supporter

“Investigations are going on,truth will come out soon,” Raj Kumar Agarwal says.

Written by Manoj Prasad | Ranchi | Published:April 2, 2012 11:18 pm

Raj Kumar Agarwal will go down in history for alleged association with the first-ever cancellation of elections to the Rajya Sabha after votes had been cast,following allegations of horse-trading. In his hometown Jamshedpur,he is better known as a “self-made man” from a “humble background” who had links cutting across political lines,and who had lately forged another identity: as supporter of “anti-corruption activists” Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev.

Agarwal,one of the two Independents in race for Rajya Sabha seats from Jharkhand,had joined the Team Anna agitation in Jantar Mantar last year as well as the Ramdev camp at Ramlila ground that had been rudely disrupted. Earlier,in 2008,he had organised a camp by the yoga guru in Jamshedpur. He denies having anything to do with the seized Rs 2.15 crore. “Investigations are going on,truth will come out soon,” Agarwal says.

With seizure of the money from a vehicle allegedly belonging to Agarwal’s kin hours before polling on March 30 prompting the Election Commission to cancel the Jharkhand election,the few Anna supporters in the city welcome the move while cautioning that it could all be a conspiracy against the “good man”.

Interestingly,the reaction of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha is almost similar,with the party talking of Agarwal’s “spotless record” and adding it holds him “in high esteem”.

Says an Anna supporter and lawyer Dhananjay Bharti: “Kudos to the Election Commission for countermanding the poll. It will serve as a deterrent to those who had turned the electoral process into a farce by using cash for votes. Having said that,I must add that a good man like Agarwalji who always voiced concern against corruption and participated in Team Anna agitations might have become a victim of competitive and dirty politics.”

Born to a pulses trader in a middle-class Rajasthani family,the 49-year-old was raised in a modest single-storey house in Jamshedpur. In the ‘80s,almost straight after doing B.Com in college,Agarwal set up Hind Hardware that would become the mainstay of his fortunes. In the real estate boom in Jamshedpur around this time,his Saraikela-based firm that sold building material flourished. In 1999,he set up High Tech Chemicals Private Ltd (HTCPL) in Jamshedpur,supplying items from foundry equipment and ceramic to chemicals needed in factories. His third venture was a Ranchi-based Ford motor dealership,Jayshree Ford.

In Jamshedpur,Agarwal was known for his association with former CM and JMM president Shibu Soren and Chief Minister Arjun Munda. On March 26,2004,when Munda was the CM,another Agarwal company,Nilanchal Iron and Power Ltd,signed an MoU with the state government envisaging an investment of Rs 515 crore to produce sponge iron and power. Later,he sold the company.

There are also reports of his proximity to Jharkhand Vikas Morcha MP Ajay Kumar and its president and MP Babulal Marandi. The latter two had dinner with Agarwal at his Jamshedpur residence last month,in the run-up to the Rajya Sabha polls.

Marandi,a bete noire of Soren and Munda,has now demanded a CBI probe into the alleged horse-trading. “Only a CBI probe can unravel from where Rs 2.15 crore came and who all were going to get the cash for votes,” he says.

“If the IT has evidence against him,it must proceed against him,” says JMM secretary Suprio Bhattacharya. “But we continue to hold Agarwal in high esteem because he had a spotless record in business and society and had done a lot for the poor,old and infirm in the steel city.”

Agarwal is now head of the Singhbhum Chamber of Commerce and Industry,an affiliate of FICCI,as well as president of the Jharkhand Pradesh Goshala Sangh,a trust with 20 goshalas (housing cattle) across the state. He proudly shows photographs of himself with senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj,Tata bigwigs Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry as well as Hazare and Ramdev.

Suresh Sonthalia,regional vice-president of the Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce and Industry,calls him a good-natured man. “He had built a colony comprising 250 single-room houses for families of leprosy patients on the outskirts of Jamshedpur.”

Agarwal’s brother Suresh too is now a businessman,while his daughter is married to the son of the owner of the Jamshedpur-based Shah Sponge and Power Ltd. His son is studying MBA in Scotland.

An accountant in the car from which the Rs 2.15 crore was seized told the Income-Tax authorities that the cash belonged to Agarwal’s son-in-law Sumitra Shah and that he had been told to give it to one “Khandelwal” of Jayshree Ford in Ranchi (owned by Agarwal).

IT investigations have revealed that the cash was withdrawn from a State Bank of India branch in Jamshedpur and from an Axis Bank account in neighbouring Orissa’s Barbil block in Keonjhar district.

On Saturday,the IT issued summons asking Shah and Khandelwal to appear before it today. While Shah came,Khandelwal stayed away.

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