27/02/2015 2:25 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Congress Says Essar Was 'Wooing' Gadkari, BJP Dismisses Claim

India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari laughs at a rally to protest against the rising prices of essential commodities in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010. India’s food price rises drove a 7.3 percent jump in the headline wholesale price index in December, and inflation has begun to spread to non-food sectors as well.(AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)

NEW DELHI — After a “whistleblower” has reportedly decided to approach the court claiming Essar Group "cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence, showered them with gifts and favours to push its business interests," Congress has jumped in, alleging that Essar was "wooing Nitin Gadkari".

The Indian Express reported on Friday that the Centre for Public Interest Litigation was filing a public interest litigation on the matter in the Supreme Court.

The Congress said that corporate house Essar was wooing BJP leader and now cabinet minister Nitin Gadkari when it offered him a holiday on its French cruise.

Congress leader P.C. Chacko said corporates always tried to "cultivate" politicians, adding: "It is up to the politicians to keep away from these types of allurement.

"No corporate will extend benefits to anybody for free because they expect some quid pro quo," Chacko told Times Now channel.

The Congress leader refused to accept Gadkari's argument that he was a nobody when, according to the Indian Express, Essar Group sponsored a two-night holiday on an Essar luxury yacht in the French Riviera for Gadkari and his family July 7-9, 2013.

The Gadkaris were flown to the yacht in a helicopter from Nice airport and returned the same way.

If Gadkari was a "nobody", Essar "would not have taken him seriously", Chacko said. "They knew he is important in his party and also he is going to be someone more important, so they will get some benefit out of that."

The Bharatiya Janata Party was, however, dismissive of the report.

"This kind of news keeps coming every day. We don't need to react to this," BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told journalists.

The Express report, based on leaked internal Essar communication, detailed how the group cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence and showered them with gifts and favours to push its business interests.

Those who sought - and got - favours from Essar included politicians from other parties including the Congress as well as journalists, the Express said in a front-page report.

Gadkari admitted to using Essar's French yacht but argued that there was no conflict of interest as he held no public office then. "I will not do so now that I am a minister... But then I wasn't, neither an MP nor BJP president."

Although Gadkari had ceased to be the BJP president when he used the Essar yacht, the Express quoted an Essar mail to the yacht captain describing the Gadkaris as "very important people ... see they are comfortable".

The Express also said that Congress leaders Sriprakash Jaiswal, a former central minister, Digvijaya Singh and Motilal Vora — both former chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh — as well as BJP's Varun Gandhi, MP, sought jobs in Essar for people they knew.

Jaiswal told the daily that he "may have recommended a few people to Essar". He added: "I used to frequently recommend unemployed youth from my constituency."

Digvijaya Singh, however, said he did not recollect this case. "I do not deny that I used to regularly give references to those who needed assistance."

The report goes on to mention how the group cultivated individuals in positions of power and influence, showered them with gifts and favours to push its business interests.

Gadkari, however, said: "I will not do so now that I am a minister...But then I wasn't, neither an MP nor BJP president".

The Indian Express report also said that former minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Congress leaders Digvijaya Singh and Motilal Vora and BJP's Varun Gandhi referred candidates for jobs in Essar.

Essar has refuted allegations of wrongdoing.

"We are a law abiding company and responsible corporate citizen and have not indulged any wrong doing," said an Essar spokesperson.

Claiming that the Indian Express report and other media reporting on the issue was based on stolen or fabricated information, the spokesperson said that the company has initiated legal action in the matter.

"A compliant has been filed against the suspected individuals responsible for act of steeling and fabricating document from a private corporate organisation which is as much an offence as theft from Government department," said the spokesperson. "Possession thereof constitutes receiving and dealing with stolen information which is punishable offence."

"The inferences being drawn from the information being published are completely false and incorrect."

(With IANS inputs)