MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court decision on film-maker Subhash Ghai to return the land to the state has not just hurt Union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh who had ‘gifted’ the land when he was chief minister in 2000 but also the Congress. The petitioner had approached the high court asking for Vilasrao to be investigated by the CBI as the land deal was allegedly a quid pro quo for his son being ‘promoted’ in Ghai’s films.
Ritiesh has worked in Apna Sapna Money Money, a film produced by Subhash Ghai. While the high court has dismissed the plea, the allegation of Vilasrao helping his son Ritiesh to gain a foothold in films has always been strong. From the time of his debut film Tujhe Meri Kasam, Ritiesh’s film career has not exactly taken off. While he is acknowledged to be talented, none of his sole hero films have worked. So film-makers are now only giving him roles in multi-starrer films.
While Vilasrao might deny that he has been trying to help his son succeed in his film career, facts and circumstances speak otherwise. Immediately after the 26/11 incident, Vilasrao got embroiled in a controversy when he took his son and film-maker Ram Gopal Varma on a guided tour of the Taj and Oberoi hotels. Varma had then claimed that the visit had nothing to do with a film project. Last year, however, Varma admitted that he was going to make a film on 26/11. Ritiesh has acted in at least two of Varma’s films; one of them came after the Taj visit.
It’s not just that Vilasrao has been accused of promoting his son in films. The minister is also helping him win friends. For instance, in 2005, the owners of a Pune pub Fire ‘n’ Ice cried foul after they were shut down by police. The owners claimed that the police action had come against them after they had stopped actor Aftab Shivadasani from taking drugs within their establishment. They claimed that since Aftab is a good friend of Ritiesh the latter managed to shut down the pub through his father. Both Aftab and Ritiesh strenuously denied the allegations.
The decision could not have come at a worse time for the Congress that has been mockingly pointing fingers at rival political parties. Be it Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Yeddyurappa in Karnataka or recent attempt of the BJP to recruit scam-tainted Babu Singh Kushwaha, the Congress has not left any stone unturned to condemn the political parties for tolerating graft. However, its own record has been far from good, former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan had to resign after his name cropped in the Adarsh housing scam. He has been named in the FIR filed by the CBI. Only late last month, the CBI questioned Chavan for his role in the scam.
Maharashtra Heavy Industries Minister Narayan Rane might claim that he has nothing to do with Adarsh but the project came in to life when he was the chief minister under the Sena BJP government in 1995. Interestingly a PIL in the Bombay High Court is already asking for cases to be registered against both Vilasrao and Union Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde for their role in Adarsh.
He added that the party high command is now worried that it could fall in a deeper quagmire if its ‘Mr Clean’ Prithviraj Chavan gets his name dragged in to the Antrix-Devas deal. Chavan was in the PMO when the Antrix-Devas deal was okayed and the Opposition had been clamouring for his head last year over his role in clearing the deal. With the controversy erupting again, the Congress is keeping its fingers crossed.
The High Court verdict has meant that the Congress strategy of trying to embarrass parties like the BSP and BJP on tainted ministers will have to take a backseat for a while. Which probably explains why a day after the verdict, the Congress has not offered any defence on behalf of Vilasrao.
Maharashtra Congress President Manikrao Thakre said the party has not finalised its position on the issue. “Our party has not decided on its stand, the government has to act on the high court order,” said Thakre. Prithviraj Chavan though in a function in Pune on February 10 said that the high court decision “was a lesson for all of us”.
It’s obvious why the Congress is tight-lipped as the high court verdict leaves no room for it to wriggle out of. “Here is a case where all norms of transparency and reasonableness have been given a complete go-by. The present case is a classic example of arbitrary, unreasonable and illegal decision of permitting use of available land owned by the government without any authority of law,” the court said.
The Congress was gearing to browbeat the BJP for the rap Narendra Modi received from Gujarat High Court for his inaction and negligence during the 2002 riots, now in the wake of censure against one of its own top most ministers the Congress has been left very embarrassed.