From members of his family to close associates of crisis managers, a number of those close to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, increasingly find themselves in a situation of their own accord or allegedly because of their proximity to the Congress CM.
The latest cases in this regard involve Minister Mahesh Joshi and Congress Leader Mahendra Choudhary. Delhi police are looking for Joshi son Rohit in an alleged rape casewhile Choudhary’s brother, Moti Singh, was arrested in connection with the murder of a salt merchant.
As the Rajasthan Congress prepares for Assembly elections, scheduled for December 2023, these developments appear to have triggered apprehensions among some party leaders that they may be “caught in the net” by various agencies, especially central agencies, which they fear may pursue them more aggressively as the election nears.
The BJP, however, denounced CM Gehlot for “resorting to baseless allegations” that “democracy and constitutional bodies are at risk and ED, CBI are being misused.” Accusing the Gehlot government of allegedly influencing the investigations, Rajasthan BJP Chief Spokesperson and MPP Ramlal Sharma charged: “Ashok Gehlot has two laws. One is the Indian penal code, which he does not want to follow, and the other is the Gehlot penal code, where he comes to a conclusion without investigation and gives a clean report. He gave a good word to all his relatives, whether in the case of Mahesh Joshi, Mahendra Choudhary or Lokesh Sharma.
Here’s a look at seven people close to Gehlot who have been in the crosshairs of various agencies – though none of them have been arrested so far – since he became CM for a third term in December. 2018.
Agrasen, Gehlot’s brother
During the political crisis that engulfed Gehlot’s government in July 2020, the Law Enforcement (ED) Directorate carried out raids across the country, including the premises of CM’s brother, Agrasen Gehlot, in Jodhpur , in connection with an alleged fertilizer scam. ED officials searched several properties of his company, Anupam Krishi. The case involved the “illegal” export of muriate of potash (MoP), which is imported by the Indian Potash Limited (IPL) and distributed to farmers through companies at subsidized rates. According to ED officials, between 2007 and 2009, Agrasen, which was an authorized IPL dealer, purchased MoP at subsidized rates and allegedly sold it to a few companies instead of distributing it to farmers. These companies then exported it to Malaysia and Singapore in the form of industrial salt.
However, sources close to Agrasen said the law was not broken by Anupam Krishi but by companies that bought MoP from him, and that Agrasen had no knowledge of the export.
Vaibhav, the son of Gehlot
Vaibhav’s name emerged when, during the July 2020 crisis, the Income Tax (IT) Department raided nine offices of two companies – Mayank Sharma Enterprises (MSE) and Om Kothari Group. MSE is owned by the family of Ratan Kant Sharma, which in March 2011 acquired 50% of the shares of Sunlight Car Rentals Private Ltd, a company launched by Vaibhav, and remained its shareholder until March 31, 2016. MSE manages a hotel in luxury Le Méridien in Jaipur.
Sharma is also the developer of Triton Hotels and Resorts Private Limited, which runs Fairmont, a luxury hotel on the outskirts of Jaipur which was also raided by the ED and where Vaibhav is believed to have once been employed. In March 2022, Vaibhav was in the news again for an alleged fraud of Rs 6.80 crore, after an FIR was filed against him for cheating, breach of trust and intimidation. However, the plaintiff later dropped the charges against him.
Dharmendra Rathore, close collaborator of Gehlot
During the 2020 crisis, the computer raids were carried out on the offices and properties of Dharmendra Rathore, one of Gehlot’s relatives. In February this year, Rathore was appointed Chairman of the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation (RTDC). On May 17, while speaking to reporters at Azadi Gaurav Yatra organized by Rathore in Jaipur, Gehlot said, “Ye bhi famous ho gaye, inke bhi chhapa pad gya, Poore desh ke andar Dharmendra Rathore, Dharmendra Rathore, Dharmendra Rathora. Arey bhai, koi udyogpati hai? Bada vyapari hai? Hai kya you? (Dharmendra Rathore also became famous, he was also raided and all over the country his name was taken. But is he a big industrialist? Or a big businessman? What’s going on?) »
Rajiv Arora, assistant to Gehlot
Former Rajasthan Congress Vice President, Rajiv Arora, founder and owner of Amrapali Jewels, also faced cyber raids during the 2020 crisis. A veteran of Congress, he was among the founding members of NSUI in Rajasthan. Over the years, he has been associated with Congress and its governments in various roles and is currently Chairman of the Rajasthan Small Industries Corporation.
Lokesh Sharma, OSD of Gehlot
Sharma is facing an FIR filed by Union Minister Gajendra Singh, under which Delhi police have issued him with a summons about half a dozen times since last year.
The Indian Express had reported in March 2021 that the government had agreed to phones being tapped during the July 2020 crisis. Defending the CM’s OSD against the opposition’s allegation that it prepared and disseminated the voice clips, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal, during a debate in the Assembly, had said, “If Lokesh Sharma gets something and passes it on a WhatsApp group, what sin has he committed? You don’t do that too? And why shouldn’t he send?… You say he made it viral, why shouldn’t he make it viral? You say Lokesh Sharma did the clippings. Provide evidence.”
A few days later, on March 25, Shekhawat filed an FIR against Sharma and others in Delhi for criminal conspiracy and “unlawful interception of telegraph signals (telephone conversation)”.
Sharma appeared twice before the Delhi police for questioning. Both times it was grilled for about three hours. When he last appeared on May 14, he told Delhi police he had passed the audio clips to the media “in the interests of the state”.
Mahesh Joshi, minister
During the crisis of 2020, Joshi was Gehlot’s man on Friday, which among other factors led to his elevation to minister in November 2021. Last year, Joshi was also summoned by Delhi police as part of the Shekhawat FIR, but ignored it. More recently, an FIR was filed against her son Rohit in an alleged rape case. In her FIR, a Jaipur-based woman accused Rohit of repeatedly raping her between January 8, 2021 and April 17 this year. He is currently on the run. In the meantime, he has also filed a petition in the High Court to have the FIR set aside, claiming their relationship was ‘consensual’ and was ‘blackmailing’ him.
Mahendra Choudhary, Deputy Chief Congressional Whip in the Assembly
Mahendra Choudhary recently made headlines after being named in the murder of a Jaipal Poonia salt trader in Nagaur. The FIR in this regard was filed by Poonia’s wife, Sarita. Choudhary’s brother, Moti Singh, is among five people arrested in connection with the case so far. Proclaiming his innocence, Choudhary lamented Poonia’s murder. On his name appearing in the FIR, he said: ‘I fully believe in justice and the law and call on residents not to pay attention to rumours. The victim’s family will get justice and I am always ready for a fair investigation.