A sting operation has laid bare the fissures within the Maharashtra BJP, particularly a power tussle between two of its prominent leaders, Raj Purohit and Mangal Prabhat Lodha.
Both are senior MLAs but neither has a berth in the cabinet, which is due for a reshuffle. Both trace their roots to Rajasthan and have long been engaged in a turf war for south Mumbai. The difference is that while Purohit can be blunt and is known for public outbursts, Lodha is relatively reticent.
Shot by Marathi channel TV9, the sting shows Purohit purportedly blaming Lodha for “managing” RSS and BJP leaders with his wealth. Purohit apparently blames Lodha for “manipulation from the top” so that Purohit is not made a minister, besides making comments about Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and the late Pramod Mahajan.
“Lodha, who has amassed huge wealth, funded the (last) elections. He also manages RSS and other leaders,” Purohit is shown as saying in the video, which the BJP claims to have sent for authenticity tests.
“Lodha never had so much money. Pramod Mahajan made him wealthy,” Purohit purportedly says. Lodha is known to have been close to Mahajan while Purohit, for three decades, was seen as close to the late Gopinath Munde.
“Lodha has a major say in the party as he is the funds provider. Ideally, I should have been the most senior minister after Eknath Khadse, but I am not even a minister. It is because Lodha ensures my name does not figure in list. It is manipulated at the top.”
The normally reticent Lodha hit back immediately, issuing a statement against Purohit. “The utterances and allegations are an indication of the political failure and frustration of Purohit,” reads his one-page statement. “I have been in politics for 35 years and my credentials are well-known in the party. Is it a crime to be a developer? I have always adopted fair practices in business as well as politics.”
Each camp is keen to see its leader in a ministerial berth. Lodha, who represents Malabar Hill, is seen a contender who enjoys the faith of the top leadership. A close aide of his, however, insisted, “Lodha has never claimed a ministerial post. He is a senior leader and is doing the work assigned by top party leaders.”
Purohit has not been able to conceal his disappointment at being overlooked for a berth. “In the elections too, Purohit was upset as he had wanted to contest from Kalba Devi but the party decided to field him from Colaba instead,” a BJP source said. It is the subsequent failure to become a minister that is seen as having led to the outburst — if he did indeed make it.
“The so-called video operation will have to be verified. We will send the video to a forensic laboratory. If facts are established, we will proceed with action,” state BJP president Raosaheb Danve said. Purohit has reportedly urged the party to give him time to reply to a showcause notice he has been served. Danve said, “We have not taken any decision yet as we are awaiting a comprehensive reply from Purohit. He has sought some more time to issue a clarification.”
Danve left for a week’s vacation Tuesday; any action will have to wait until he returns.
In the one week since the controversy broke, Purohit has gone into a shell. He has not been seen in public and has not gone to the BJP headquarters in Mumbai, nor to his office. His last public statement came in the form of a denial, shortly after the sting.
“There has been an attempt to tarnish the image of the BJP and my own career,” it read. “I have faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, national party president Amit Shah and the entire national leadership of the party. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is an ideal chief minister. I have faith in his leadership. I have faith in state BJP chief Raosaheb Danve…”
FROM THE STING OPERATION
What Raj Purohit purportedly said about top party leaders and his rivals on television; he has since been served a showcause notice while BJP ‘verifies the authenticity of the video’
On Narendra Modi
“Modi is doing a good job. But he should not make mistakes. You cannot alienate the traders’ community which is the BJP’s vote base. Making PAN cards compulsory for purchase of gold worth more than Rs 1 lakh has left many unhappy.”
On Amit Shah
“Where is the collective leadership? It is a fact only two control the party. And that is dangerous for democracy.”
On Pramod Mahajan
“Mangal Prabhat Lodha never had so much money. Pramod Mahajan made him wealthy.”
On Mangal Pratap Lodha
“Lodha, who has amassed huge wealth, funded the elections. He also manages RSS and other leaders. Ideally, I should have been the most senior minister after Eknath Khadse, but I am not even a minister. It is because Lodha ensures my name does not figure in the list.”
Mangal Prabhat Lodha, 60
Vice president of state BJP is a leading property developer in Mumbai. After college in Jodhpur, Lodha shifted to Mumbai, studied law, and set up Lodha Groups, which has more than 30 projects including a 100-storey structure in Mumbai. Both as an opposition and a ruling party leader, he has been at the forefront of the campaign against cow slaughter. Ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections, Lodha staged a massive musical concert at Race Course, sharing the dais with Narendra Modi and Lata Mangeshkar.
Raj Purohit, 59
Chief whip of the BJP in the assembly, Purohit too is a law graduate hailing from Rajasthan. A full-time politician since college, he has also been Mumbai BJP president. In the Shiv Sena-BJP government of 1995-1999, he was a minister of state. His followers allege he is facing a “manipulated sting” for the third time as he is likely to become the minister. In the assembly, Purohit raises public issues relating to traders (a major constituency for the BJP) and housing problems of the middle class.