Updated: May 23, 2022 1:59:37 am
From his family members to close aides to crisis managers, a number of those close to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot are increasingly finding themselves in a spot either of their own making or allegedly due to their proximity with the Congress CM.
The latest cases in this regard involve minister Mahesh Joshi and Congress leader Mahendra Choudhary. Delhi Police is looking for Joshi’s son Rohit in an alleged rape case, while Choudhary’s brother Moti Singh has been arrested in connection with a salt trader’s murder.
As the Rajasthan Congress gears up for the Assembly elections, slated for December 2023, these developments seem to have triggered apprehensions among some party leaders that they might be “caught in the net” of various agencies, especially the central agencies, who, they fear, may pursue the cases against them more aggressively in the run-up to the polls.
The BJP, however, hit out at CM Gehlot for “resorting to baseless allegations” that “democracy and constitutional bodies are in danger and ED, CBI are being misused”. Accusing the Gehlot government of allegedly influencing probes, the Rajasthan BJP’s chief spokesperson and MLA Ramlal Sharma charged, “Ashok Gehlot has two laws. One is the Indian Penal Code, which he doesn’t want to follow, and the other is Gehlot Penal Code, where he reaches a conclusion without investigation and gives a clean chit. He has given a clean chit to all those close to him, be it in the case of Mahesh Joshi, Mahendra Choudhary or Lokesh Sharma.”
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Here’s a look at seven people close to Gehlot who have been in the crosshairs of various agencies — although none of them have been arrested so far — since he became the CM for the third term in December 2018.
Agrasen, Gehlot’s brother
During the political crisis that engulfed the Gehlot government in July 2020, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) conducted countrywide raids, including the premises of the CM’s brother Agrasen Gehlot in Jodhpur in connection with an alleged fertiliser scam. The ED officials searched multiple properties of his company, Anupam Krishi. The case involved “illegal” export of Muriate of Potash (MoP), which is imported by the Indian Potash Limited (IPL) and distributed to farmers through companies at subsidised rates. According to the ED officials, between 2007 and 2009, Agrasen, who was an authorised IPL dealer, bought MoP at subsidised rates and allegedly sold it to a few companies instead of distributing it to farmers. These companies subsequently exported it to Malaysia and Singapore as industrial salt.
However, sources close to Agrasen said the law was not violated by Anupam Krishi but by companies which bought MoP from it, and that Agrasen had no knowledge of export.
Vaibhav, Gehlot’s son
Vaibhav’s name cropped up when during the July 2020 crisis the Income Tax (IT) department searched nine offices of two firms – Mayank Sharma Enterprises (MSE) and Om Kothari Group. MSE belongs to the family of Ratan Kant Sharma, who had in March 2011 acquired 50 per cent shares in Sunlight Car Rentals Private Ltd, a company floated by Vaibhav, and remained its shareholder till March 31, 2016. MSE runs a luxury hotel Le Meridien in Jaipur.
Sharma is also the promoter of Triton Hotels and Resorts Private Limited, which runs Fairmont, a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur, which was also raided by the ED and where Vaibhav was reportedly employed once. In March 2022, Vaibhav was again in news for an alleged fraud of Rs 6.80 crore, after an FIR was filed against him for cheating, breach of trust and intimidation. However, the complainant later dropped the case against him.
Dharmendra Rathore, Gehlot’s close aide
During the 2020 crisis, the IT raids were conducted in the offices and properties of Dharmendra Rathore, one of Gehlot’s close sides. In February this year, Rathore was appointed as the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC) chairman. On May 17, while speaking to reporters about Azadi Gaurav Yatra organised by Rathore in Jaipur, Gehlot said “Ye bhi famous ho gaye, inke bhi chhapa pad gya, poore desh ke andar Dharmendra Rathore, Dharmendra Rathore, Dharmendra Rathore. Arey bhai, koi udyogpati hai? Bada vyapari hai? Hai kya ye? (Dharmendra Rathore also became famous, he was also raided and all over the country, his name was being taken. But is he a big industrialist? Or a big businessman? What is happening?)”
Rajiv Arora, Gehlot’s aide
Former Rajasthan Congress vice president, Rajiv Arora, founder and owner of Amrapali Jewels, also faced IT raids during the 2020 crisis. A Congress veteran, he was among the founding members of the NSUI in Rajasthan. Over the years, he has been associated with the Congress and its governments in various roles and is currently the Rajasthan Small Industries Corporation chairman.
Lokesh Sharma, Gehlot’s OSD
Sharma faces an FIR filed by Union minister Gajendra Singh, in connection with which Delhi Police has issued summons to him about half a dozen times since last year.
The Indian Express had reported in March 2021 that the government had accepted that phones were tapped during the July 2020 crisis. Defending the CM’s OSD against the Opposition’s allegation that he had prepared and circulated the voice clips, parliamentary affairs minister Shanti Dhariwal, during a debate in the Assembly, had said, “If Lokesh Sharma gets something and forwards it on a WhatsApp group, what sin has he committed? Don’t you do it too? And why shouldn’t he send?…You say he made it viral, why shouldn’t he make it viral? You say that Lokesh Sharma made the clippings. Give evidence.”
Days later, on March 25, Shekhawat lodged an FIR against Sharma and others in Delhi on charges of criminal conspiracy and “unlawfully intercepting telegraphic signals (telephonic conversation)”.
Sharma has appeared before Delhi Police twice for questioning. Both times, he was grilled for about three hours. In his latest appearance on May 14, he told Delhi Police that he forwarded the audio clips to media persons “in the interest of the state”.
Mahesh Joshi, cabinet minister
During the 2020 crisis, Joshi was Gehlot’s man Friday, which among other factors led to his elevation as a cabinet minister in November 2021. Last year, Joshi too was summoned by Delhi Police in connection with Shekhawat’s FIR, but he skipped it. More recently, an FIR was lodged against his son Rohit in an alleged rape case. In her FIR, a Jaipur-based woman has accused Rohit of raping her on multiple occasions between January 8, 2021, and April 17 this year. He is currently absconding. Meanwhile, he has also filed a petition in the High Court to quash the FIR, claiming that their relationship was “consensual” and that she was “blackmailing” him.
Mahendra Choudhary, Congress deputy chief whip in Assembly
Mahendra Choudhary was in the news recently after being named in the murder of a salt trader Jaipal Poonia in Nagaur. The FIR in this connection was filed by Poonia’s wife Sarita. Choudhary’s brother Moti Singh is among five persons arrested in connection with this case so far. Claiming innocence, Choudhary has deplored Poonia’s murder. On his name figuring in the FIR, he said, “I fully believe in justice and law and appeal to the locals to not pay any heed to the rumours. The victim’s family will get justice and I am always ready for a fair investigation.”
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