With the formal arrest of Ratul Puri, Kamal Nath’s trusted nephew in a Rs 345-crore bank fraud case, the endgame seems to have begun for the Madhya Pradesh government. Hanging by a thread and two short of a simple majority, the Congress government has survived a tumultuous few months under constant pressure from Amit Shah and the BJP.
Puri was also at the centre of a Rs 280-crore income tax department allegation during the Lok Sabha elections. The IT department had raided premises of people close to Nath, including his principal secretary R.K. Miglani, OSD Praveen Kakkar and Puri. They claimed to have found a note detailing hawala transaction of Rs 280 crore, with part of this money apparently going to the All India Congress Committee’s coffers. That case is still pending investigations.
Puri’s arrest came following an ED call up. After answering questions late into Monday night, he was arrested by the CBI. The complaint had been filed by the Central Bank of India, which seems to have lent Puri’s company Moser Baer Indi Limited (MBIL) Rs 345 crore based on fraudulent representation. It came to light after a forensic audit of the MBIL accounts. The Central Bank had complained that Puri had misused the funds provided to the company in 2009 for personal gains. The CBI has framed charges under provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
Puri’s arrest assumes significance in the backdrop of his blood and business relations with Nath. He is the son of Nath’s sister Nita Puri, who is married to Deepak Puri. Apart from Ratul, Deepak Puri, Nita,, two other directors of the company – Sanjay Jain and Vineet Sharma – have also been named in the FIR.
On his part, Ratul had resigned from MBIL in 2012. The CBI has also sought to implicate him in the AgustaWestland chopper case, for which he has received anticipatory bail from the Delhi high court. His counsel had alleged in court that he was being victimised deliberately, despite his willingness to join the probe.
The wider impact of Puri’s arrest and the drama of investigations surrounding him began after his uncle became chief minister of MP and sought to consolidate his position with the help of independent and BSP MLAs in the state assembly. “Old files have been dusted out wantonly to effect the arrest. It is an effort to destabilise opposition governments through such harassment,” says Rajya Sabha MP Vivek Tankha.
Kamal Nath sitting pretty?
Nath was able to cobble together a 120-member majority alliance after the polls in December 2018, with the support of two BSP MLAs and four independent MLAs. The BJP, led by Shivraj Singh Chouhan, had 108 MLAs in the 230-member house and gave up after trying and failing to persuade the independents to join.
But the shocker from Kamal Nath came in the monsoon assembly session, when two BJP MLAs voted with the Congress on a Bill, after the speaker called for a division of votes. So the Nath government now enjoys a majority of 122. Having proved his majority twice in the house, Nath assumes he is sitting pretty.
The “defection” of the two MLAs rattled the BJP’s central command and it found that neither Chouhan nor the leader of opposition Gopal Bhargava were capable of taking on the duo of Nath and Digvijay Singh. This has triggered the probe into Puri’s business dealings, or so Congress members in MP believe.
BJP leaders in MP have been itching for action for some time now. In the immediate aftermath of the BJP’s stupendous Lok Sabha results, the party’s national general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya had publicly said that the Madhya Pradesh government will fall within two hours of the high command giving the green signal.
But his son Akash, who is an MLA from Indore, beat up a civic official in the city and was arrested. Digvijay Singh seems to have helped out the senior Vijayvargiya in his hour of need, who has since melted into the background.
Chouhan still harbours hopes of coming back to power, and has started describing Narendra Modi and Shah as “Krishna and Arjun“. “I have started worshipping them,” says Chouhan who knows that sycophancy may be his only chance to regain power. But BJP insiders believe that Chouhan has little chance of being given the reins again, at least not until his two gods are in power. He should be thankful that so far, Nath has not hit back by ordering a probe into the Vyapam cases against him. But for how long can Nath hold back, when his own family is being pressured, is anybody’s guess.
There has been a lot of speculation regarding Jyotiraditya Scindia being enticed by the BJP. He is believed to be commanding the support of about two dozen MLAs, but that may not be enough to break the Congress legislature party. The independents are also solidly behind Nath and for the moment, he seems secure. But one never knows where the Puri probe might lead and there are two other cases to consider, especially the one involving the IT raids.