Who is Anshuman Mishra? What did the BJP see in him to offer him a Rajya Sabha nomination? Revati Laul profiles the man who is making the party squirm
IF THE BJP has reason to be embarrassed, there is a long list of contenders — from Karnataka to Uttar Pradesh. But one man, who’s not even from the party, who very few in the BJP knew existed, managed to capture the collective anger and imagination of its leaders in the span of a week. And even after Anshuman Mishra, 37, has said sorry, he’s ended up turning an otherwise mundane Rajya Sabha election into a Hitchcock-ian drama, starring — if Mishra’s version is to be believed — The Man Who Knew Too Much.
However, let’s start with senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha’s version. Sinha saw Mishra’s name on the nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha seat from Jharkhand and cried foul. Who is this man, Sinha asked the party? Why is the BJP backing an outsider for the Rajya Sabha nomination? Is it because this NRI businessman from London has money?
“You must remember that Jharkhand has become a Rajya Sabha bazaar,” Sinha told TEHELKA. “And I didn’t want the BJP to fall into that trap.” An angry Sinha and BJP’s Leader of the Opposition at the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, are reported to have then pointed questioning fingers at party chief Nitin Gadkari for backing Mishra.
But Sinha had no idea that by indirectly calling Mishra Mr Moneybags or a fixer, he would be unleashing an embarrassing cache of words whose sting would long outlast the BJP’s public denials and even Mishra’s retraction. “I was deeply hurt by the accusations,” says Mishra. “I responded to that by saying things that should not have been out in the public domain.”
The things in question make up quite an impressive list:
• Accusing Jaitley of having taken favours from him, including sitting in his box at the Lord’s Cricket Ground to watch a match; for which Jaitley has now slapped defamation charges on him
• Alleging that he took Murli Manohar Joshi to meet industrialists who are accused in the 2G spectrum scam
• Telling a television channel that BJP’s 85-year-old Jinnah-loving geriatrics (hinting at Advani?) should retire Whether the retracted accusations have a grain of truth or not is almost irrelevant to this unfolding political drama. What it leaves behind is one baffling question. Who is Mishra and how did he get noticed by the BJP for some of its leaders to back him in the first place?
As a teenager from UP, Mishra was hooked on to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement
Mishra is a small-town boy from Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, who says he got hooked on to two things in his early teens: Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s teachings and the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which reached its pinnacle with Advani’s rath yatra and later, the Babri Masjid demolition.
However, Mishra didn’t want to become a saint and decided to go abroad and “become a man of the world”. He studied economics and then law at the University of San Diego and after a legal and business career at big law firms, he based himself out of London and the US.
He co-founded an investment advisory company called MPH Holdings, a private firm registered in Nevada. Mishra’s partners in the firm are based in the US, while he works out of the UK. The company website says the deals they consider are typically of an enterprise value of $50- $500 million. The financial turnover is not listed. It’s not a subject that Mishra says he’s willing to discuss with TEHELKA.
By the time Mishra’s career at MPH was taking off in London, his brother Rajeev, a staunch and loyal RSS man, claims: “Anshuman had very little contact with the rest of us.” Rajeev slowly built a career for himself in the Sangh Parivar and eventually contested the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election this year on a BJP ticket, from Rampur Karkhana, and lost.
Meanwhile, Mishra had begun to be acquainted in fairly influential and rich circles, both in India and abroad. Many of the celebrities he listed refuse to speak about him now. But a mover and shaker in these circles, who didn’t want to be named, says: “Mishra is extremely well-connected and has the ability to get you to meet the who’s who of the world in a one-on-one personal interaction and that is impressive.”
Among the people Mishra was seen with was Gadkari. What brought the two together? What kind of acquaintance was this? Were the NRI businessman’s connections the start of a set of profitable negotiations into which Gadkari put some faith? There are no answers, but many such questions.
A colleague of Mishra, Peter Tichansky of the Business Council for International Understanding, describes the businessman as an “international bridge-builder”.
The bridge building also got Mishra acquainted with Sahara Group founder Subroto Roy, with whom he now says he had a falling out last year. And in 2000, he was on the executive board of Deepak Chopra’s company and invited to an Indo-US business council event. He’s also proudly sent TEHELKA photographs of himself with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and Fiat Motors CEO Sergio Marchionne.
Speaking to some of the powerfully connected people whose names Mishra drops while telling us how self-effacing he is was a revelation. Many didn’t respond at all, while some said they know him, but barely. The one man who admits this publicly is Congress spokesman Manish Tewari. He said he’s met Mishra at public gatherings but cannot claim him as a friend, a term Mishra used to describe their relationship.
Which brings us back to the million-dollar question. Why would such a well-connected NRI businessman hanker for a Rajya Sabha seat? Mishra says it’s because he wants to serve the nation. His detractors say it’s the seductive charm of power. That begets more money and more power.
Uttar Pradesh BJP stalwart Kalraj Mishra says he was never certain of the NRI’s political stripes as he hobnobbed with people from various parties. He also contrasted Mishra’s political ambitions with that of his brother Rajeev’s, whose affiliations have been clear from the start.
But even the picture Mishra himself paints is telling. He says, “I’m a naïve person and I didn’t know what I was getting into. The party knows what’s been going on, how they chaperoned me to the nomination and treated me like a VVIP. It may be a procedural error on their part and I don’t want to blame them for it.”
An apology laced with suggested discomfiting truths. And yet another question: What did the party see in this globe-trotting, name-dropping NRI businessman?
INSIDERS REASON that the BJP had lost the Rajya Sabha seat the last time around. The coalition government in Jharkhand didn’t give the BJP enough numbers to get the votes of the allies on their own. So backing an outsider would potentially allow a consensus candidate to emerge by using whatever means necessary, without directly tarnishing the BJP’s image.
Some fall in line with Sinha’s theory that the seat was going to the highest bidder who could potentially buy the support of the allies. Mishra says that’s rubbish. He’s known some of the allies — the JD(U) as well as the All Jharkhand Students’ Union for many years — and has spent a good part of last year travelling the length and breadth of the state, as part of his bid for the Rajya Sabha seat.
Now with the seat gone, a public apology and a mountain of embarrassment, Mishra says he remains a BJP supporter, but with one caveat. “If they abandon the ideals propounded by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and how the party was set up, then I will take a call and be free to go to any outfit that I feel is doing more service to the nation,” he says.
And a rider.
“Just because I supported them when they needed some support doesn’t mean I will spill the beans.”
The beans, however, are spilled. Leaving behind many uncomfortable questions on the BJP’s plate.
Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.