Friday, April 29, 2011

How Kalmadi reached Delhi, and slipped

How Kalmadi reached Delhi, and slipped
MoneyLife, April 26, 2011 05:53 PM Bookmark and Share
Veeresh Malik

Suresh Kalmadi, the so-called darling of the voters and corporate chieftains from Pune, would not have come to much harm had he stayed content as the Lord Arbitrator in that once sleepy retirement town 

On Monday, as the rumour mills in Delhi worked overtime on the Suresh Kalmadi arrest process, much attention was once again focused on what is known as the "CWG scam", as well as various aspects of the Indian Olympics Association (IOA) and its activities in India. The fact remains that till as recently as a year ago, even the accounts of the IOA and Commonwealth Games (CWG) in India were not open to public scrutiny, despite almost total funding by the Indian government, with complete support of the Indian government and its multiple arms. As a matter of fact, Suresh Kalmadi's IOA and CWG defended vigorously across all forumsfrom the Central Information Commission to the Delhi High Courttheir rights to not provide any information pertaining to accounts and activities, and they were backed by the Union of India in this.

Against yours truly, incidentally, was this complete effort mobilised. Until a judgment by the Delhi High Court changed the course of history; by clarifying once and for all the meaning of the term "public authority". (This, incidentally, is being challenged again, by no less an entity than the Securities and Exchange Board of India and a few others, with support fromyou guessed itthe same government!)

But is this only about the issue of misuse of public money related to sports activities in connection with a series of incidents referred to as "embarassing" by the current government?

Actually it is all this, and much more, and it certainly does not start or finish with the present high-profile developments over the arrest of Suresh Kalmadidarling of the voting public in Pune as much as he was a darling of corporate chieftains also from Pune and the page-3 wonders there.

If anything, he was and still is even in absentia the ruling chief as well as 'Lord Arbitrator' of this previously sleepy retirement town, which suddenly evolved especially over the last decade, as not just an extension of Mumbai, but as a hub of industrial, infotech, educational, religious and other commercial activities. This also included a property boom of the sort which Harold Robbin's "The Carpetbaggers" made famous, and a market for tax evasion and fake products which competed with Ulhasnagar; so extensive was its scale.

It has been said that every loaf of bread sold in Pune had two slices removed before it was re-packed, and these were reportedly for the "K Fund". The milk co-operatives were kept out of the retail market and Pune was one city where cooking gas was freely available, for resale, on the pavements of the city. So tight was his hold that even senior managers of central government organizations, like oil companies, would defer to him.

And lest we get taken in by the smug looks and grins on some of the faces of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) representatives doing their thing on television, be fully aware that the Big K was equally at home with the BJP and the Shiv Sena, as he was with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), in forming alliances as well as sharing the pie. In everything, there was a role and a share for everybody, and nobody knew how to keep things together with opponents as well as supporters as he did.

To a large extent, this was also because the growth in Pune was so exponential over the last decade, that there was enough to go around. So who was, or who is Suresh Kalmadi?

With an Indian Air Force background, which in itself has been the subject of some speculation on the how and why of his departure, to the rapid growth in and around his Poona Coffee House in the Deccan area of Pune's Jangli Maharaj Road, where he also started his filling station and Maruti as well as Bajaj dealerships, to greater game that is still whispered about in the corridors of Air India and ITDC, Kalmadi has been there and seen it all.

Big transport companies? Take a look at the track record of Neeta Travels and Ashok Travels and Tours, allegedly controlled by close friends. There's no smoke without fire, including all sorts of allegations pertaining to the misappropriation of cheques issued to similar sounding public sector companies, and the use of such inter-state bus companies for movement of a variety of contraband, including narcotics and counterfeit currency. Certainly, not proved, but then how does one prove such things?
Octroi evasion? Pune, like Mumbai, has its own octroi games. Along with Pimpri, as well as non-octroi areas surrounding both the municipalities, the environs in and around Pune are a genuine delight for those who wish to evade paying octroi, but certainly do not have an issue with charging it from unwary customers. It is well known that fake "octroi paid" certificates were available for almost everything, and every now and then the issue would be raised, to die down again.

Another racket in which Pune had become famous was as a location where the Road Transport Office (RTO) could be persuaded to do almost anything for a price. Whether this was responsible for Pune becoming a hub for the disposal of stolen vehicles is always whispered about.

But the real big games were always played out in Delhi. Whether it involved Air India or ITDC, or railways contracts, the Big K was always there in the background with his well-oiled fleet of fixers and movers playing their roles. Among various names mentioned in Delhi are his tie-ups with a nephew of the Nehru clan, who is also associated with a major international hotel chain which involves an ex-chief of Air India.

It has also been whispered that a hoard of documents have been kept by the Big K in these cases, with friendly contacts abroadspecifically with retired officers from a particular intelligence agency. And that's one reason for the delay in arresting him as these entities were slowly and steadily being neutralised.

Another good friend the Big K has is a famous filmstar-turned-BJP politician, whose daughter is an aspirational actress, and whose PR was handled by a company close to the Big K. The friend has been trying to use his not inconsiderable clout, as loud as a shotgun, but has been silenced due to reported linkages with Andhra politicians involved in the Hasan Ali case.

For sure, of course, we have not heard the last of the Big K. Unlike other people who have vanished quietly, he has been around far too long in the corridors of power in Delhi, and would have probably not come to much harm if he had stayed satisfied with his grip over matters in his part of the country. Nobody would, even now, dare question his hold.

But Delhi has always been the aspirational target for many people, and eventual graveyard for them too. While the efforts to save his skin continue, it seems that the word is outhe has been neutralised.

And Pune is now ready for a new leader, who will, hopefully, be loyal to Delhi, instead of trying to take on Delhi. You see, the real Marathas have already made their peace and signed their treaties, so others had to be side-lined. Besides, there is an old saying in Delhiyou really can not mix flour in salt, and then expect to make a paratha that everybody likes. Salt in small quantities in flour, yes.

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