The Barons of Nagpur
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The Darda family is no stranger to controversy. The latest one—the CBI has filed an FIR against media barons and Congress politicians Vijay and his brother Rajendra Darda in the coal block allotment case—has not come as a surprise to those who have watched their careers and that of their father before them.
It was in the early sixties that Jawaharlal Darda, a young clothes salesman from Yavatmal in Maharashtra who called himself a freedom fighter, gradually but firmly entrenched himself in the Congress. A glib talker, Jawaharlal endeared himself to then Maharashtra chief minister Vasantrao Naik (1963-75), becoming his close confidant. He became a member of the Legislative Council in 1972 and remained one for six terms till 1996. He was made chairman of the State Housing Finance Development Corporation and it was during this stint that he first came under a cloud. A Marathi magazine, Manoos, carried reports on Jawaharlal's alleged misdemeanours and he retaliated by filing multiple cases against the publishers. Manoos struggled to cope with the hearings and eventually lost the case.
Meanwhile, in 1971, Jawaharlal had launched Lokmat, a Marathi daily from Nagpur. The newspaper is said to have played a key role in the Congress's return to power in Maharashtra in 1978. Jawaharlal was rewarded with his first Cabinet berth, one which he held on to for many years.
Jawaharlal spoke often about being a "freedom fighter" and of his time in jail during the struggle for Independence but there are many who rubbish his claim. Motilal Chhallani, a freedom fighter and a Gandhian from Nagpur, had once alleged that Jawaharlal had been in jail for other reasons. The Dardas dismiss the allegations, saying there are "government records that say he was in Jabalpur jail for two-and-a-half years. There are photographs of him in the Azad Hind Sena uniform."
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