Inside track by Coomi Kapoor

It was a testimony to businessman MP Subhash Chandra’s clout that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee attended the 90th anniversary of the Essel Group.

Subhash Chandra, Narendra Modi, Pranab Mukherjee, Essel Group, Subrata Roy, Sahara group, Jagannath Goenka, Suresh Prabhu
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Image: PTI)

Dubious age
It was a testimony to businessman MP Subhash Chandra’s clout that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee attended the 90th anniversary of the Essel Group along with several prominent politicians, sadhus, and Subrata Roy of the Sahara group, who is out on bail. However, halfway through the show, the PM and President left. After that, the programme became increasingly raunchy—leggy girls in revealing outfits bumping and grinding, and youth with their shirts unbuttoned twirling around, lifting the crooner. Incidentally, the claim of the Essel Group to be 90 years old is a trifle suspect.

It is based on the date from which Chandra’s grandfather Jagannath Goenka started his food grain trading shop in Mandi Adampur, Haryana, which later went bust. Chandra bought Essel packaging only in 1982. Before that he made his fortunes exporting inexpensive ‘parmal’ as costly Basmati rice to the Soviets, at the instance of known yoga guru Dhirendra Brahmachari.

Will they act?
A well-documented and revealing book, The False Spy by Major Nirmal Ajwani, is to be released next month. It is not about Kulbhushan Jadhav—held by the Pakistan army—but the story of 67 Indian Army officers and jawans, including Major Ajwani, falsely accused and court-martialled in the mid-Seventies by our own Army. They were victims of the Samba spy hoax. A few criminally callous Indian military intelligence officers cooked up the spy story to advance their own careers. Many were tortured, jailed and disgraced. The key prosecution witness has since publicly confessed that he was coerced to give false statements in return for his own freedom. Over the years, much evidence has surfaced of the flawed prosecution case.

The Delhi High Court exonerated two of the accused when the matter finally came up before a civilian court, paving the way for the other cases. But thanks to an intransigent Army headquarters, which did not want the system challenged, and a Supreme Court which refused to act proactively on technical grounds, the grave injustice has not been rectified even after four decades. Today, many of those who took up the cause of the victims of a fake plot are in key positions. Arun Jaitley, who was defence lawyer in the high court, is now defence minister.

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi and additional solicitor general Maninder Singh were also part of the defence team. NSA Ajit Doval, when he was in the Intelligence Bureau, fought to undo the wrong. His former boss VK Kaul had put it on record that he was convinced of their innocence. Will the Modi government finally rectify this grave injustice?

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High-flying Prabhu
A Gujarati pilgrim to Gangotri was impressed when he saw railway minister Suresh Prabhu standing in the queue just like everyone else. But what was not so impressive was Prabhu’s decision to fly to Gangotri by a special chopper of the Uttarakhand government. Originally he was scheduled to take a commercial flight to Dehradun and from there board a helicopter. The minister felt that two trips would be cumbersome. So a chopper was flown from Dehradun to Delhi to pick him up and fly him directly to Gangotri. The cost for the round trip: Rs 16 lakh.

Nursing a grudge
All the important leaders of Rajasthan attended the first annual Bhairon Singh Shekhawat lecture by President Pranab Mukherjee in Jaipur last week. Governor of Punjab VP Singh Badnore suggested that Jaipur’s Sanganer airport be renamed after Shekhawat, who was thrice chief minister of Rajasthan. Since both chief minister Vasundhara Raje and former CM Ashok Gehlot were present at the function, Badnore pointed out that a joint resolution to this effect could be introduced in the state Assembly. The audience broke into wild applause. Gehlot nodded his head, but Raje sat stiffly without acknowledging the suggestion. She has not forgotten that Shekhawat and she were once in opposite camps in state BJP politics.

Nowhere to go
Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela has made his unhappiness clear to his party. The Congress is unwilling to declare him as the party chief ministerial candidate before the coming Assembly elections, even though he commands the loyalty of a majority of the Congress MLAs. Vaghela may sulk, but he has nowhere to go. PM Modi is unwilling to forgive his old rival in the BJP. Vaghela is believed to have leaked the news of Modi’s child marriage to the media. Vaghela has reportedly been told by the BJP that it is willing to accept his son Mahendrasinh Vaghela, an MLA, but not him. Even his son’s admission is dependent on Vaghela followers defecting as well. Though the party may not be averse to making Vaghela a governor.

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