A businessman-journalist and Rajya Sabha member from the ruling Congress party, Vijay Darda has recently shot into national limelight, but, for all the wrong reasons — he has become embroiled in the Coalgate that has currently swept the nation. Also involved is his brother, Rajendra Darda — who was elected from the Aurangabad assembly constituency and is the Maharashtra minister for education — as well as Rajendra’s son, Devendra, for being partners of JAS Infrastructure, which received coal blocks in Jharkhand in an allegedly suspicious manner.
The son of Maharashtra’s former minister Jawaharlal Darda, 61-year-old Vijay is the chairman of the Lokmat Group of newspapers that publishes Lokmat (Marathi), Lokmat Samachar (Hindi) and Lokmat Times (English) from different cities in Maharashtra. His friends and associates, who cut across party lines, know Darda as a politician who has been in a hurry to gain fame and prosperity. He has been known to effectively market his proximity with Reliance Industries’ chief Mukesh Ambani, as well as Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, in order to consolidate his position. Darda is also known for his passion for swanky cars, elaborate architecture and plush offices and residences.
His entry into politics back in 1998 did not surprise many. Despite being a devoted Congressman, Darda defied his party’s diktat and contested for a seat as an independent candidate. He was elected to the upper house from Maharashtra, defeating the party’s nominee and former bureaucrat Ram Pradhan. Although Darda’s election created a storm within the party, he was subsequently brought into the party’s fold. This was not so unexpected, as the Congress party at the time was not in a position to dump an influential media baron while pursuing its plan to unseat the saffron Shiv Sena-BJP alliance rule between 1995 and 1999.
Since then, Darda has made it a point to keep himself in the good books of the Congress party’s high command in Delhi, as well as Maharashtra’s top leadership. This paid off, as Darda was officially nominated by the Congress party during the 2004 and 2010 elections, which he won with flying colours. Like his father Jawaharlal who was a freedom fighter and served as the state treasurer for the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee besides being a minister in successive Congress led governments, Darda was never elected directly from the people. Yet, that doesn’t seem to bother him too much, as he has no mass following in politics.
Darda is pursuing ambitious plans to take on rivals in the print media, in particular by increasing the group’s presence and its consolidation. His Lokmat is also a partner with CNN-IBN’s Marathi TV channel. He served as the president of the Indian Newspaper Society and the president of the South Asian Editor’s Forum, formed by the editors of dailies in South Asia.
Darda’s ambition to gain recognition as a business magnate, not just in media, has compelled him to associate himself with the controversy-ridden power, coal and mining sectors after the Congress-led UPA government came into power for the first time in 2004. He joined hands with Manoj Jayaswal, promoter of the Abhijeet Group, and the second son of Basant Lall Shaw, who founded the Neco Group. Darda’s association with Jayaswal was essentially a potent combination of that with a powerful politician, as well as an emerging entrepreneur, which worked well in getting coal blocks in Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Everything went off well till the Central Bureau of Investigation filed the FIR and exposed JLD Yavatmal Energy and JAS Infrastructure and Power limited.
Darda, who recently hit headlines after describing Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a tiger and a national saint, has denied all charges. Ironically, there are few takers among the Congress party while opposition parties and Darda’s critics are on a rampage, seeking punitive action against him.