Nagpur: Advocate Pramod Borawar of Gadchiroli and Datta Jamdar of Mahal, Nagpur were two guys who have been friends with Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways and Shipping since they were in secondary school. Neither of them is in politics, but yet they have not drifted away from their high profile ‘politician and important Minister’ childhood friend. In fact the friendship has only deepened. Both were in the ‘Wada’ on the stroke of midnight yesterday to usher in Gadkari’s 59th birthday with his family.
Apart from them, as midnight struck between 100 to 150 people just walked in to wish the Minister. Each one was greeted warmly and cordially.
“That is the kind of person he is, he attracts people towards him; people from all walks of life” says Advocate Borawar.
“Even when we were in school, he always liked being surrounded by friends” pipes in Datta Jamdar who works in a private firm now.
“We were all boys from typical middle class families and it was not the norm then to give lavish pocket money to children. So when we had about Rs. 25 to 30 even it was time to party! Nitin would insist we call some other friends and invite them to go along too. ‘Aree, how will Rs. 30 only suffice for a big group? I would ask’. ‘So what? We will all eat one spoon each!’ Eating is not important. Meeting is’ he would reply.”
(This generous, people-loving streak of his continues. Two years ago, an industrialist of Nagpur Syamala Sanyal and another lady belonging to a Social Corporate Responsibility group went to call on him – a simple courtesy call to tell him about their activities. He not only welcomed them warmly and heard them out patiently, but as Shyamala recalls “We just went to call on him at Mahal . He showed us around his place , his private auditorium, his bamboo products etc , showed us a film and then gifted us lots of stuff including Tussar sarees. He came across as a very genial sort of a fellow.” )
“In so many ways he is a very atypical politician. He always speaks very bluntly and frankly. It may offend the listener initially, but later on you realize he was correct” says Jamdar.
“He is actually a Social worker rather than a politician who is using this grand opportunity he has got in public life to benefit as many people as he can” he continues.
As these close friends recall, Gadkari was always a good orator even when in school and used to win debate competitions etc. routinely. His mother, Bhanutai Gadkari, was already a prominent Jansangh worker, so probably she was his inspiration but he became active politically only during the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi.
“We were members of Jan Sangh’s student wing, the ABVP. In 1976 – 77 he became active in the struggle against emergency and came to the notice of seniors in the party. His rise in ABVP and later Jan Sangh was meteoric after that.”
‘ As some of his political adversaries have claimed, is Gadkari caste minded and promotes only other Brahmins like him?” NT asked.
“Not at all, he is above all these narrow, parochial matters. People matter to him and he has the unique ability to make friends cutting across caste, religion or even party lines. When Sharad Pawar was in the Congress and was CM of Maharashtra, Nitin came to his notice when he took part in the agitation for an Ayurvedic Medical college in Nagpur. Since then they became friends and that friendship lasts even today” says Pramod Borawar.
Gadkari’s childhood pals insist that this bogey has been raised against him time and again by his opponents to pull him down. Accusations like he is caste minded. Or that he is corrupt.
“We have seen no signs of arrogance or a superiority complex that creeps in when a person amasses wealth by ill gotten means. Money by itself means nothing to him. It is a means to an end – and the end result he desires is benefit to maximum people.”
But they point out that these accusations have come in handy when he was sought to be put down – like the time when his tenure as BJP President was not extended and his predecessor Rajnath Singh again became President.
“But he does not take such set backs to heart. He keeps his calm and equanimity – there is no rankle or anger or prejudice against anybody in his mind. He just lets his work speak for him. That way he is quite a Karma Yogi”
With his RSS background and perceptions created by the ‘Hindutva brigade’ is Gadkari himself a staunch religious minded person, we wonder.
“He does puja, he believes in ‘Shakti’ but he is not dogmatic or blindly superstitious at all. His family has the heritage of having the ‘Mahur Devi’s adhisthan’ and he worships her devoutly. But you will never find Nitin running behind any ‘Baba’ or Godman. Like we said earlier, he is a Karma Yogi, not a Dharma Yogi.”
(In many of his interviews Gadkari has made it abundantly clear that his views on Religion, caste etc. are inclusive and humanitarian. He believes in universal fellowship and the Indian ethos of ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’ – the whole world is a family. He is quite believable when he says that.)
If he is fanatic about anything, it is his projects like ‘joining rivers of India’ maritime navigation, creating infra structure where you can traverse the length and breadth of the country – and transport goods too, on ships and barges.
He believes in buses that run on Ethanol and cars that run on solar power. He can get so carried away with these dreams for India and how our apathy and negative mind set keeps us from being great,that sometime he can sound quite like Don Quixote tilting at windmills!
But then you look at his record of two years as Union Minister, his reputation as probably the ‘best Minister in Modi cabinet’ and you see he has the tenacity and will power to make impossible things come true.
Now that he has mentally also accepted the transfer from Maharashtra to Delhi ( ” where too his house if always full of well wishers and people who have just dropped by to say ‘hello’ “) it is the Vidarbha issue that could catch up with him yet.
The Vidarbha Andolan Samithi have made public their intention to hold Gadkari keep his written commitment to separate Vidarbha and begin agitations in front of his house from August 13th – Kranti Diwas.
How will he handle this dilemma and tricky situation?
His friends refuse to opine on this issue saying they will not talk politics. Advocate Borawar acknowledges that personally he believes we should get separate Vidarbha.
“Smaller states are easier to manage and become more prosperous. Look at Gadchiroli itself. Earlier it was part of Chandrapur District and was quite backward. Then in 1984 it was made into an independent district place and has progressed in leaps and bounds after that. There are smoother highways, bridges that enable you to travel to a distant place like Sironcha in just 3 hours! Similarly, Vidarbha can progress rapidly if made an independent state.”
But he makes it clear this is his personal view and they do not discuss it when they meet.
“His vision is quite national now. When he has Maharashtra PWD Minister, he thought as much about Konkan as Vidarbha and now when he is Central Minister he is as concerned about J&K as Assam and the south.
” But he has the stature of being ‘elder brother’ to Nagpur and Nagpurians. He is an M.P. from here and senior most politician of Vidarbha – he will not let us down”.
…. Sunita Mudaliar