THE NUMBERS seem impressive — 2,000 family and friends on the first day, 4,000 VIPs on the second, and about 1.5 lakh people from in and around Nagpur on the third. But given the scale on which wedding receptions are thrown by politicians and businessmen, BJP President Nitin Gadkari did not err on the side of extravagance while celebrating his elder son Nikhil’s marriage to Rutuja Pathak.
Several guests at the Nagpur event called it a damp squib, given how it was billed as the wedding of the season, mostly by Gadkari’s own gestures and preoccupation with it. When the BJP’s crisis in Karnataka over corruption allegations against Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa was peaking, Gadkari was in Nagpur, overseeing preparations.
There were two kinds of reactions from within the party and the Sangh Parivar. One criticised Gadkari for spending too much money, making a mockery of the austerity and simplicity the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh preaches. The other reaction was of distaste for the tackiness and pomp — and obvious effort to make it a show of strength. A guest overheard Gadkari and his aides enquire about big names that were invited but did not come, like Mukesh Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan. There was talk of a Rs. 9 crore house gift to the son, the BMW 7 Series sedan, diamond jewellery and designer clothes. “Usually, you hear the guests praising the arrangements and the hosts apologising to the guests for any inconvenience. Here, we had the hosts talking big,” says a party source who attended.
Another guest said the hype around the expenses or the grandeur were misplaced, and that the number of guests has to do justice to the profile of the second largest national party’s president. It is expected that Gadkari will contest the Lok Sabha election from Nagpur, so it was de rigueur to have an open house for anybody who dropped by. About 15,000 guests were just the workers and farmers who supply cane to Gadkari’s sugar factory.
“He is fond of food and of feeding people. That was the only big expenditure,” says a party functionary, giving an estimate of Rs.2 crore spent on food. A BJP MP says only about nine dishes and two items of sweets were served, which is conservative when compared to the spread of cuisines at north Indian receptions. All persons on board the special 180-seater Kingfisher flight from Delhi had to pay their own fare of Rs. 7,200 each, he says, adding that the expensive house and BMW sedan were media fabrications.
The pomp was seen as a mockery of the austerity the RSS preaches and also a show of strength
Gadkari and his aides did not respond to questions about the wedding. But his predecessor Raj Nath Singh had this to say: “The wedding was organised in as simple a way as the wedding of a national president can be.” He wondered why there were headlines about a “big fat wedding”, because he saw no signs of it.
One party source, though, recalled a statement Gadkari had made on austerity when he took over the party this time last year. He had asked party workers to not bring him garlands and bouquets of flowers, and instead drop the money in a donation box of the party. In several speeches since, he has spoken of farmers’ distress, which is especially acute in the Vidarbha region. And one of his constant refrains has been about reaching out to the poorest of poor under Antyodaya. The wedding was a prime opportunity to reach out to the populace while also playing host to the political elite.