Once Favourite of Congress, He’s Now BJP’s Chosen One
Gandhinagar: From selling tea in an handcart to becoming one of the largest edible oil tycoon and the sur prise third candidate for Rajya Sabha f r o m B J P, Balwantsinh Rajput’s surely is a rags to riches story. On July 28, for mer Gujarat Congress chief whip Rajput, the owner of Gokul Group, declared his movable asset to be worth Rs254 crore while filing his nomination. But the journey to this riches had started from a handcart selling beetle nut and cigarettes.
“The handcart is still preserved before my office in Siddhpur to remind me where I came from,” Rajput told ET.
Rajput (56) started working with his father Chandansinh Rajput on his handcart after his father lost job following the closure of an oil mill in Siddhpur. “In 1972 floods, our entire house was washed away and we did not even had an extra pair of clothes to wear,” Rajput recounted. While he couldn’t make much headway with education, sources say that his father once sent him to Gandhinagar to meet the then chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, a fellow kshatriya to seek a job. Solanki those days was known to have open doors for the people in his office.
But as luck would have it, Rajput ran into another Congress heavyweight of the time Jinabhai Darji, who with his rustic grip over the rural Gujarat advised Rajput to start a fair price shop from his two-room house and got him requisite license.
His business soon got him in touch with some influential people including Surendra Rajput, a veteran Congress leader, which ignited Rajput’s political ambitions. Meanwhile, he also forayed into edible oil business and set up Gokul oil.
“I have seen harsh days,” Rajput said. “In late 70s, we had to sleep on the pavements of a hospital when my sister fell ill and those experiences are hard to forget,” he added.
Over the years, Rajput’s muscle grew both in terms of politics and finance and in 2002, at the height of saffron wave in Gujarat, he defeated the only suave and erudite face of BJP in Gujarat Dr Jay Narayan Vyas in his home constituency of Siddhpur when most of t he Congress candidates were reluctant to contest election. While he lost the seat in 2007, BJP’s intra-party factionalism saw the seat reverting to him in 2012. His prowess also made him a favourite of the Congress High Command in Delhi. Congressmen s ay that Ahmed Patel had a major role in augmenting his political career. “It was basically Ahmedbhai (Patel) who enhanced his political career all along,” said senior Congress leader Arjun Modvadia. “From giving him tickets to making him the chief whip, it was all done because of Ahmedbhai, who also extended his help for his family from time to time,” he added. “It is indeed an irony that Balwantbhai today is challenging Ahmedbhai for BJP, the party he stood against all along,” Modvadia added further.
Rajput, however, blamed it all on the g rowing f actionalism in Congress. “I have been in the party for 35 years, but since last 12 months the infighting was getting unbearable,” Rajput said. “I had pointed out to the party that the climate across the state was great to give a tough fight to BJP and we need to work together. Bharatsinh Sonalki and Bapu (Shankersinh Vaghela, who shares close family relation with Rajput) need to come together and was even ready to mediate. But I was being harassed. Every alternate day a story or another would come up insinuating me and even my meeting Bapu, who is a relative, raised eye brows. I had no choice after that,” he added.