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The strange case of Gadkari -- and why Gurumurthy mattered

By M R Venkatesh
November 08, 2012 16:22 IST
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In contrast to the Congress that settles most of its internal quarrels through a reference to the ubiquitous party high command, the BJP has not yet evolved a mechanism to resolve its internal conflicts. And that is the crux of the issue, says M R Venkatesh

It is indeed a strange case in Indian political history. Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari's political opponents have not charged him with corruption. The government agencies under his political adversaries have not commenced any pointed investigation. Yet, his party colleagues are continuously baying for his blood.

More importantly, sections of the media  -- possibly aided and abetted by vested interests within his own party -- went on an overdrive. The shrillness in the media on their reporting on Gadkari was matched by their lack of objectivity or facts. To some it appeared that sections of the media were playing the role of a complainant, prosecutor, judge, jury and witness too!

And this has been going on non-stop for over four weeks now, so much so that the festival season in India has been re-christened as the Gadkari season. Interestingly, his party colleagues, never known for their cohesiveness, have been acting in tandem on this rare occasion. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Isn't it?

Nevertheless, questions remain: How is his resignation as BJP president going to help? Remember, the man himself has asked for a probe by a government agency. Rarely has one politician sought a probe with such alacrity in recent times. It may not be out of place to mention that with central probe agencies not controlled by him or his party, the resignation of Gadkari is irrelevant to the entire debate.

But there is a larger issue on hand. Even after four weeks of intense media coverage one wonders, what is the charge against Gadkari? Has he committed a murder? Rape? Dacoity? Or is it that he has indulged in some illegal financial transactions? Which law has he broken? Which rule has he violated? Which regulation has he circumvented?

Needless to emphasise, in the din, the media or his political adversaries have been unable to point out the precise infraction of law that Gadkari is presumed to have violated. Astonishing that in our country you can hang a dog even without giving it a bad name. In short, the question is -- what is the charge against Gadkari?

At best, it may be recalled, the charges if at all that can be crystallized at this point are reduced to some wrong addresses of directors. Another charge has been that Gadkari's driver, accountant and astrologer have become directors in some companies financially associated with him.

Frankly, one is bewildered by the absurdity of the charge. Is this a crime? Does the company law prohibit a driver from becoming a director of a company? The last time I read the Companies Act, I can assure the reader no such provision existed.

In fact, if at all there is an elitist bias in saying so. One wonders whether one may not sit next to a driver in a board meeting but will not hesitate doing so in a car! As regards wrong addresses, all these can be corrected by updating by filing the relevant forms.

A BJP war fought in the media?

I will hasten to admit that all this are acceptable as a serious charge in the days of Mahatma Gandhi. But not now. Remember, we are living in the times of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh where even Rs 10,000 crores can be accounted as miscellaneous expenses and even a Rs 100,000-crore scam fails to excite us.

Recall that despite mounting evidence of scams, several members of the Cabinet claim zero loss. Look at the text without having a re-look at the context at your own peril.

Nevertheless, the intricate maze of transactions, the multi-layering of corporate structures that lent money to Gadkari's companies and of course the size raised several questions -- some valid and some presumptuous. Yet, in these days of absolute cynicism, charges mattered. And with a pliable (paid?) media, it was supposed to shape, de-shape and re-shape public perception.

Strangely Gadkari's political opponents within his party believe that political discourse in this country can thus be managed by managing sections of the media. And that in turn is supposed to manage the narrative within the party! How silly! How strange! Mark my words, those who rise by the media will fall by the media.

What is all the more intriguing is that Gadkari has not held any public office since the late 'nineties. Naturally, any charges of corruption would be outrageous at this distant point in time. That explains why there are no specific charges against Gadkari. And even where they are, they are stupid at best, humourous at worst.

Senior party leaders (some of whom are highly qualified professionals and some have faced such outlandish charges in the past) have clung on the reporting of a few 20-somethings in the media (whose understanding of finance is as much as my understanding of Japanese cuisine) as an evidence of Gadkari's wrongdoing.

Did I not say that the pressure of media within the BJP is disproportionate? Or did some leaders of the BJP whip up all this through pliable sections of the media? Well, your guess is as good as mine.

In contrast to the Congress that settles most of its internal quarrels through a reference to the ubiquitous party high command, the BJP has not yet evolved a mechanism to resolve its internal conflict. And that is the crux of the issue.

Enter Gurumurthy

It is in this context that the BJP requested S Gurumurthy, a senior chartered accountant, to look into the matter. Obviously, the assignment was to figure out whether there was anything illegal, immoral or inappropriate in financial transactions in which Gadkari or his companies were involved.

But why a chartered accountant? The answer to this question is simple. When it involves finance, you go to a chartered accountant, not doctors. The next question -- why Gurumurthy?

Gurumurthy has been a pride of the accounting profession in India. Having worked with him in close quarters, I often found that even those who disagree with him have the highest respect for this professional acumen and, more importantly, his integrity.

A rare gem, Gurumurthy often has stumped me with profound answers to seemingly innocuous questions as he has simple solutions to complex problems

While he is well known in the world of finance, he is also India's leading thinker and analyst. An ideologue of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh , he was inspired by the RSS since his college days and continues to this date his affiliation with that organisation. It is generally believed in political circles that he is a leading member of the RSS.

Crucially, his expose of some of India's leading corporate in the mid-'eighties as much as his investigation on the Bofors scam is legendary. If accounting was his profession, journalism was his passion. His path-breaking work in journalism  has been greatly admired by the media in India and abroad. Hamish Macdonald, a journalist of international repute, says, his 'Investigation and Writing must rank among the most powerful examples of investigative journalism anywhere.' 

Gurumurthy is a much sought out advisor to several prominent personalities, organisations and movements. He was rated among the 50 most powerful persons in India in 1990 by Gentleman magazine. India Today magazine in 2005 rated him as the 17th most powerful person in the country.

The Business Baron magazine rated his knowledge of economics, finance and accounts as outstanding. B G Verghese, a highly respected journalist, described Gurumurthy in his biography on the media baron Ramnath Goenka as a 'brilliant chartered accountant and exceedingly astute amateur lawyer. (Source: Internet)

There is one amazing quality of Gurumurthy probably unknown to many -- the ability to reconcile warring players. No wonder he has been instrumental in mediating amidst several warring corporate (and their families). It often baffles me that warring groups unable to even decide sometimes on places of arbitration accept the arbitrator when it comes to Gurumurthy! 

In short, a man of integrity, a financial wizard and person with an extraordinary eye for details -- that is Gurumurthy for you. Surely the BJP could not have even designed someone better for the occasion. And a party where its leaders would not come to any definitive conclusion on any matter has chosen to believe the opinion of Gurumuthy speaks volumes of man.

That explains why the BJP leaders trusted Gurumurthy in this hour of crisis.

But there are lessons to be learnt for the BJP. For its day-to-day cohesive functioning it needs to have a functional arbitral system. In a highly democratic set-up this is a sine qua non. In the days of hit-and-run media it cannot depend on external help on a daily basis. Neither can it allow the charges to fester.

One way out is that the BJP probably has to ensure that it senior leaders play this role in the next few years to formalise this arrangement. To do so, seniors probably need to declare that they would not run for elected offices. And only a man who gives up can arbitrate. And only when you have a functional as well as an internal arbitral system – the BJP as a political force may become functional. The onus is on the seniors of the party.

This is the message of l'affaire Gadkari. 

The author, who is a Chennai-based chartered accountant, knows S Gurumurthy personally, and can be contacted at
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M R Venkatesh