BJP embarrassed by revelation that Gadkari had urged Tata group to set up plant in Nagpur

The Union minister had urged Tata group chairperson N Chandrasekaran to set up the Airbus-Tata transport aircraft project at MIHAN complex in his constituency

The C-295 aircraft
The C-295 aircraft

Sujata Anandan / Mumbai

As the third consecutive multicore project, each with huge employment potential, shifts from Maharashtra to Gujarat, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis have ended up with a lot of egg on their faces.

After the Drug Park and Vedanta Foxconn, now the Airbus-Tata transport aircraft project for the Indian Air Force worth Rs 22,000 crore has been shifted to Baroda in Gujarat.

The Shinde-Fadnavis government attempted to palm off the blame on former CM Uddhav Thackeray for failing to provide adequate facilities to the project, but it seems there is a trojan horse in their midst.

Two days after various members of the ‘ED government’ tried to shrug off responsibility, it has come to the fore that Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari had written to Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran urging him to set up the plant at the Multi-Modal International Hub Airport (MIHAN) at Nagpur, which is his constituency.

MIHAN was set up in the early 2000s by the Vilasrao Deshmukh government of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra with much fanfare about a cargo hub in the heart of the nation (Nagpur is equidistant from all corners of the country).

Later, Gadkari as the constituency’s MP had encouraged the setting up of an orange juice plant by the Patanjali group's Baba Ramdev who now manufactures a lot more than just juices from MIHAN.

Soon after, industrialist Anil Ambani was also allocated land in MIHAN to set up a plant for the controversial Rafale offset project, but nothing has progressed beyond the building where Reliance Aerospace is to be housed, thus denying many hopefuls of job opportunities.

Gadkari had hoped Tatas could make use of the 400 acres reserved in MIHAN for Boeing and the non-starter Ambani Aerospace. He had told Chandrasejaran that land was available in MIHAN under both the Special Economic Zone and nob-SEZ categories for not just the transport aircraft unit but also other Tata group companies.

The Tatas have an old relationship with Nagpur, having had a thriving textile business under the name of Empress Mills in the heart of the city which has now been turned into a shopping mall.

This letter was written to the Tata group chairperson on October 7 this year, hard-selling Nagpur in view of pressure from former PWD minister Chhagan Bhujbal who was pushing the Nashik facility of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited equally hard for the setting up of the plant.

After the Rafale deal was given to Ambani, who did not have any experience in manufacturing aircraft or defence equipment, workers in Nashik are out of jobs and many are facing excruciating circumstances.

From producing Russian missiles and MIG aircrafts, HAL is now limited to producing spare parts and servicing the existing Russian aircraft which could soon be phased out given that Rafale was meant for precisely that – in fact the original deal was to buy a few aircraft in fly away condition and the bulk of the manufacturing of Rafale to be done at HAL in Nashik.

One can say there was a bitter battle between Gadkari and Bhujbal, but whoever won or lost out, the project would still have remained with Maharashtra.

Now the statements of both Gadkari and Bhujbal have given the lie to the those of the ‘ED government’, with Industries minister Uday Samant backtracking on his initial statement that they tried very hard to retain the Tata project but failed to do so.

While the statements of Gadkari and Bhujbal have exposed Samant's statement that Uddhav Thackeray was ‘sleeping through the deal’ as a lie, leaders of all political parties in the Maha Vikas Aghadi have caught on to the embarrassing contretemps between Gadkari and Fadnavis and are going to town on the same. Both hail from Nagpur and Fadnavis might have to answer some hard questions from his constituents, even as Gadkari mourns that he failed to retain the project despite his best efforts.

Political observers, meanwhile, are wondering what is compelling the top BJP leadership to destroy the chances of its party in Maharashtra and leaving Fadnavis with so much embarrassment. The job losses are significant and the BJP might not stand the combined assault of the MVA on this and other counts in the next round of elections. 

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