Intensifying its attack on Bharatiya Janata Party chief Nitin Gadkari over the letter row, the Congress on Friday demanded a thorough probe into his "interest" in the Maharashtra irrigation project for which he had sought early release of funds.
Stating that Gadkari had written a letter even to the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for release of money for the controversial Gosikhurd project, the ruling party warned the BJP that it will "dig its own grave" if he continues at the helm.
"When the BJP president says he can write 10 such letters, it creates doubts that 20 such contractors may emerge.... Why he has so much interest in it. There has to be some relation.
"Definitely the contractor is someone for whom he is very concerned. This requires an explanation. It should be thoroughly probed to find out after all what is the matter," party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi told reporters in New Delhi.
Gadkari wrote to Union Water Resources Minister PK Bansal on July 30 this year seeking release of funds for the Gosikhurd project. The BJP chief's detractors allege that it was aimed at benefiting his associate Ajay Sancheti, who is said to be among the contractors for the project.
The project is already mired in controversy over an alleged scam involving Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar who quit recently in the wake of charges of corruption. The BJP has made a big issue out of it. Dwivedi also hit out at the BJP on the issue.
"Being in Opposition does not mean that you will level all sorts of allegations against others and you will go silent when allegations are on you."
While Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh on Thursday demanded the resignation of Gadkari, Dwivedi sought to rub it in saying, "We will welcome if the principle Opposition party keeps on having such a president. If he remains its president, the BJP will dig its own grave without our doing anything".
"There is nothing wrong in writing letters for public-oriented projects but doing it for a project in which anomalies have been found and which is regularly getting delayed does raise question marks," the Congress spokesperson said.
Gadkari had on Thursday defended his action, saying he had asked the Centre to release funds for the Gosikhurd project to help the farmers and not for the benefit of any contractor close to him.
"I wrote a letter to Bansal and will write 10 more.... It was done in the interest of the farmers of Maharashtra, to prevent farmer suicides in Vidarbha," Gandkari had told reporters in Mumbai.
Rejecting the explanation, Dwivedi said Gadkari should show similar letters written by him for other projects if he claims to be so serious about doing so in the interests of the people.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javedekar, who, incidentally, is reported to have written a letter similar to the one sent by Gadkari, had said that "it is clear that no contractor's name is mentioned in the letter".
Dwivedi, however, said the letter written by the BJP spokesperson matches completely with the letter by Gadkari and added "that people understand who is the contractor".
"The letter written by Gadkari mentions that the estimate has been increased from Rs 372 crore to Rs 13,695 crore. Was this project delayed for this? A question arises that who is responsible for the escalation in the project cost.
"In the letter, he also says that there are many lacunae in the project but no further probe should be carried out. All these things need to be examined," Dwivedi said reading portions from the letter.
Replying to questions on the allocation of coal blocks, Dwivedi said, "We have never run away from a probe" and assured that action will happen wherever wrongdoing has been done "from the National Democratic Alliance period up to now".
"It does not happen that you make the policy and allocations made during your period are spared while action is taken for allocations made in continuation of that policy later on," he said.