Prakash Bhandari, Jaipur: Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has locked horns with Union Jal Shakti minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and both of them are involved in wordy duel accusing each other. Gehlot for over a fortnight has been trading charges against Shekhawat for causing the political impasse in the state with the sole motive of pulling down a democratically and legally elected government through horse-trading.
Interestingly, both Gehlot and Shekhawat come from the same city-Jodhpur and both of them have come to the mainstream politics after being student leaders. Shekhawat, who is the second time MP from Jodhpur, defeated Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot by a margin of over two lakh votes in the last Lok Sabha election in 2019. Ashok Gehlot has himself won the Lok Sabha election five times from Jodhpur.
Gehlot has added two more names—petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan and railways minister Piyush Goyal— who along with Shekhawat are involved in the toppling game.
“It’s no secret that both Pradhan and Goyal are visiting the hotels where the Sachin Pilot group’s dissident MLAs are staying. They are giving them hopes and showing them a rosy path. We are monitoring it. The BJP is playing the toppling game with the money bag. It’s a battle between truth and falsehood and we would emerge winners” said Vivek Bansal, secretary of the AICC.
Gehlot has reiterated the demand for the resignation of Shekhawat for his involvement in the over Rs 800 crore Sanjeevani Credit society scam and also for his involvement in luring the Congress MLAs in the current crisis. Gehlot has said that the audio clip tapped by the Special Operations Group has Shekhawat talking to sacked minister Vishvendra Singh, a scion of the Bharatpur royal family.
Shekhawat has denied the charges of Gehlot, but the Rajasthan chief minister is sticking to the accusation against Shekhawat. Gehlot went to the extent of saying that if the voice in the audio clip was not of Shekhawat, he would quit politics. He stressed that his government is prepared to get the voice examined in the most sophisticated laboratory in the US.
Shekhawat’s rise in politics is meteoric and he has come from a RSS background and is close both with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. In the caste-ridden Jodhpur Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP sprung a surprise in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by fielding a Rajput candidate against Chandresh Kumari Katoch, the sister of the former ruler of Jodhpur of the Congress. Chandresh Kumari was the sitting MP and the BJP strategically fielded a commoner Rajput against a Princess. The BJP’s Jat and Bishnoi cadre, the two dominant castes in the Jodhpur constituency was irked that a Rajput candidate has been fielded against a Rajput.
Interestingly, Shekhawat does not belong to the Marwar region. He comes from the Shekhawati region and was born in Meharoli village in Sikar district. But as his father Shankar Singh Shekhawat was an engineer in the state government’s public health department and was posted in Jaisalmer and various other towns of the Marwar region. Shekhawat was raised in Marwar. As a youth, he excelled in basketball and was a university-level player, he, however, dabbled in the student’s politics and became the President of the Jodhpur University Students’ Union. Later, he associated himself with the RSS and then with the BJP and came in contact with the RSS leadership and impressed them with his leadership quality.
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After his first-ever Lok Sabha victory when he defeated Chandresh Kumari in 2014 by over four lakh votes with the support of all the castes, he established himself as a tall leader who could pose a threat to the domain of Ashok Gehlot.
He was made a Union minister as a first time MP as the party was keen to groom him for bigger command in the state as an alternate to Vasundhara Raje. The party announced that Shekhawat would be the next state unit president of the BJP just before the 2018 Vidhan Sabha election. This came as a surprise to the party cadre in other parts of the state as Shekhawat had no organisational experience and was hardly known to the party workers outside the Marwar region.
He was the choice of PM Modi and Amit Shah, who wanted to encourage him to snatch the leadership from Vasundhara Raje. But Vasundhara vehemently opposed his candidature as the BJP president and fought against the decision of both Modi and Shah and was successful in stalling his installation as the state unit president. There was no president in the ruling BJP then for four months and eventually, Vasundhara managed to get this position to an OBC member and a Rajya Sabha member Madan Lal Saini. Vasundhara had to face the wrath of both Modi and Shah, but she was determined. Shekhawat at having missed the bus became an adversary of Vasundhara.
Shekhawat went on building his clout in the party and he was still favoured by both Modi and Shah and when Shekhawat won the 2019 election once again defeating Ashok Gehlot’s son Vaibhav Gehlot by over two lakh votes from Jodhpur, the people in Marwar hailed him as a tall leader. It was not only the defeat of Vaibhav, but was a personal setback for Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in his own home turf. This victory of Shekhawat over Gehlot’s son made them adversaries. Shekhawat was elevated as a cabinet minister and was given the water resources departed with a rechristened name Jal Shakti.
Before the beginning of his political career, Shekhawat was in small businesses. But his fortune changed once he came in contact with Vikram Singh, who floated a financial credit company Sanjeevani Credit Society. This company which had its operations in Gujarat and in Rajas than was later duped over 50,000 investors to the tune of Rs 881 crores.
Following complaints, the SOG had lodged an FIR on August 23, 2019, and found that about 50,000 investors had been duped of Rs 884 crore by Sanjivani Credit Cooperative Society. Among others, the SOG has since arrested Vikram Singh, the founder of the society and its first managing director, who was often photographed with Shekhawat.
Singh and others were booked under IPC Sections 420 (cheating), 406 (criminal breach of trust), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant, banker, merchant, etc.), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using forged document as genuine) 201 (causing disappearance of evidence or giving false information) and 120B (criminal conspiracy).
The society was registered in February 2008, and 2,14,472 people in Rajasthan and Gujarat invested Rs 883.88 crore till June 30, 2019, but none of the investors was paid after June 1, 2019.
Between 2008 and 2012 when Shekhawat and his wife were associated with Sanjeevani Credit Society and during this time Vikram Singh as managing director invested the funds in various other businesses.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera accused Shekhawat of buying huge land in Ethiopia in Africa and according to Khera, over 2500 acres of land was bought by Shekahawat’s company in Ethiopia where he is involved in lintel cultivation and also jatropha.
A local court in Jaipur has directed Rajasthan’s Special Operations Group (SOG) to investigate the alleged role of Union Jal Shakti Minister and Jodhpur MP Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and his wife Naunand Kanwar, among others in the ponzi scam.
Hearing a revision petition by Barmer residents Labu Singh, 40, and Guman Singh, 70, Jaipur’s additional district and sessions judge Pawan Agrawal ordered an investigation on the allegations made by them.
Advocate AK Jain, who represented the petitioners, said, “They had also alleged that SOG itself found that Shekhawat, his wife Naunand Kanwar, his companies namely Soorya Bhoomi Build Infra Private Limited, Lucid Pharma Private Limited, Nav Prabha Buildtech Private Limited, and their other friends Rajendra Baheti and Kevalchand Dakliya were instrumental in the offence and money has been transferred to them as per the charge-sheet, but these persons were neither investigated nor the property purchased by them seized. Some property was purchased in Ethiopia as well.”
The petitioners had submitted a detailed chart of payments allegedly made to Shekhawat, his wife, and companies owned by them. After this the court order and the SOG found the audio clip that had Shekhawat’s voice, Gehlot has been insisting for Shekhawat’s resignation.
Gehlot has raised the issue of moral responsibilities of Shekhawat to resign from his post as Union minister and face investigations by the SOG.
On the other hand, Shekhawat has said that the SOG twice investigated the matter and nothing was found against him. As he defeated Ashok Gehlot’s son in the Lok Sabha election, he accused Gehlot of taking political revenge. Gehlot has been accusing Shekhawat as the person who was the kingpin in destabilising his government.
In the coming months, Shekhawat will have to face the fierce questioning by the SOG and he is trying to get the FIR lodged against him quashed by the Rajasthan High Court.
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