In resigning from the national executive of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to protest against an allegedly corrupt party president in Nitish Gadkari, Mahesh Jethmalani — ‘Tony’ to his friends — has unequivocally chosen the side he will bat for.
“I consider it morally and intellectually inappropriate to be in the national executive committee with you as the BJP president,” he said in his letter of resignation. Having a father in Ram Jethmalani, who has been seeking Gadkari’s resignation on grounds of corruption, no doubt, doubly reinforces his decision.
Although there is still some traction in BJP for Ram Jethamalani, due to his past association with the party, BJP activists don’t really know what to make of Mahesh’s action, which they see as a command performance, on order from Ahmedabad.
After returning from Oxford, Mahesh enrolled as a lawyer in February 1981. Since then, he has handled several cases for clients who range from political parties to corporate houses to film stars. He came to enjoy close proximity with the top leaders of both the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and BJP, while handling the case of sadhvi Pragya Thakur, an accused in the Malegaon blast case.
Mahesh also has the resolute support of some of the most prominent leaders of the party, including Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. It certainly helps that Mahesh is providing legal help to Maya Kodnani, a former minister of Gujarat arrested on charges of being involved in the 2002 post-Godhra riots.
Apart from politicians, the BJP leader has also represented the Birla family in the Priyamvada Birla case. The two Jethmalanis filed a criminal case on behalf of the Birla family against Rajendra S Lodha, alleging he was trying to convert some of the group’s trust property in his own name for personal gains. He also appeared for Sanjay Dutt during his trial that revolved around the 1993 serial blasts.
However, his record at winning elections has been somewhat patchy. He was fielded as the BJP candidate from Mumbai North Central parliamentary constituency against Congress’ Priya Dutt in the 2009 general elections. The party was quite optimistic that Mahesh, who has a long list of clients, from the corporate and film worlds, would be able to mobilise support, especially financial resources. But, he lost to Priya Dutt by a margin of 154,515 votes.
Party workers say Mahesh distanced himself from the cadre and party work after his defeat. Senior BJP leaders believe the reasons for Mahesh’s outburst against Gadkari were quite obvious: Failure to get a Rajya Sabha seat from Maharashtra after the 2009 defeat. He tried to get the party nomination from the state for the Rajya Sabha on several occasions but was unsuccessful. The party nominated his father to the Upper House instead.
In Mumbai, party members argue that Mahesh’s criticism of Gadkari is uncalled for. They say Gadkari is still a taller leader than Mahesh in Maharashtra. But guns for hire know how to shoot better.