As Narendra Modi took the oath of office and secrecy, the nation was in a turbulent phase, reeling under the shadows of multiple financial scandals. The 2G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games fiasco, and towering above them all, the Coalgate scam, had shaken the public’s faith. Yet, with this backdrop, the Modi administration forged ahead with a clear agenda to reform.
Upon assuming power, one of the government’s primary targets was to overhaul the coal mine allocation system. They consulted the Supreme Court and, by 2015, launched a transparent e-auction method. The distinctive reverse bidding approach, crafted for regulated power bidding, was a testament to their innovative governance. The government set a ceiling price, reflecting Coal India’s extraction expenses, prompting bidders to compete in proposing the lowest feasible price. To further intensify the competitive spirit, a bold maneuver eliminated half the qualified bidders after they had submitted their bids. The outcomes were palpable: the revenue garnered compensated for the Rs 1.86 lakh crore Coalgate loss, with states such as Jharkhand, Odisha, and Maharashtra poised to collectively benefit from a Rs 15 lakh crore windfall over the next 30 years.
Under the inspiring leadership of Prime Minister Modi, Coal Minister Shri Pralhad Joshi led these transformative initiatives. Appointed in 2019, Joshi focused on maximizing India’s coal assets, curtailing imports, and ensuring energy security. Under PM Modi’s leadership, the minister’s visionary policies led to the Ministry of Coal permitting 50% sales from captive mines, triggering a surge in coal production from 39.5 MT in 2013–14 to a commendable 122.7 MT in 2022–23. Under Joshi’s aegis, by FY2023, India proudly documented a coal production of 893.08 MT, a significant ascent from the previous years. Joshi not only boosted production but also dispelled coal shortage rumors, aligning his goal of thermal coal self-sufficiency by 2025-26 with PM Modi’s “Aatm Nirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India)” vision. The coal industry, in a brief period, underwent an astounding metamorphosis, amplifying transparency, productivity, and energy security.
But can we forgive and forget the ones who gave India its biggest financial scam ever? Has justice been done in the Coalgate scam? And do we know everyone who fleeced the honest tax paying Indian? Not all, because there is one sneaky operator who hides in plain sight. Smiling, collecting awards, and making a mockery of the Justice system.
You might not see him splashed across news front pages or making waves in prime-time discussions, but he has certainly left an imprint. Despite being convicted for his involvement in the Coalgate Scam and having agencies like the CBI and ED filing cases against him, his son, and his brother, he has managed to maintain a surprisingly low media profile. He is Vijay Darda.
Outside these controversies, Darda is known in many circles as a philanthropist and a media mogul. Furthermore, there are those who celebrate him as an honorable member of the Parliament. His journey, filled with contrasts, reminds us that there’s often more to a story than what meets the eye.
The Vijay Darda legacy
Born in the bustling town of Yavatmal, Vijay Darda’s entry into the world of politics and media might seem scripted to some, but the traces are clear. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. His father, a known figure in the Congress political landscape, laid the groundwork for Vijay’s political journey. But that’s not where the Darda legacy started or stopped.
Jawaharlal Darda, Vijay’s father, was more than just a politician. He wore the hat of a noted journalist and went on to launch Lokmat, which today stands tall as a leading Marathi media house. The name ‘Lokmat‘ reverberates in many Marathi households as a “trusted source of news”.
In the world of print media, Vijay Darda’s ascent was both rapid and remarkable. Starting from the ground up, he didn’t merely follow in the footsteps of his forebears; he carved a distinct path for himself. As he rose through the media ranks, Vijay established his own formidable clout. His influence wasn’t limited to just media. In the political arena too, he began to make waves.
The Political Plunge
1998 was a standout year for Darda. Contrary to many expectations, he clinched victory as an independent candidate. His triumph didn’t go unnoticed. The Congress Party, sensing his potential and influence, extended an invitation.
Heeding the call, Darda joined hands with the Congress. And it proved to be a decision that benefited both him and the party. In 2004, with the support of the Congress, he secured a seat in the Rajya Sabha. This wasn’t a fleeting success. Again, in 2010, Darda was re-elected to this prestigious position, thanks to Congress’ willingness to give him ticket every time.
It’s no surprise that within the Congress corridors, Vijay Darda earned a reputation as the blue-eyed boy. His consistent successes, both in media and politics, solidified his status within the party, and his journey became emblematic of how dedication, combined with strategic alliances, can pave the way for lasting success.
Vijay Darda’s love for Coal
In 2012, India was shaken by a financial scandal of an unprecedented magnitude – the Coalgate Scam. At the heart of this controversy were Shri Prakash Jaiswal and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself but Vijay Darda was also named among others.
Initial estimates pinned the potential loss to the national exchequer because of the Coalgate scam at a staggering 10.6 lakh crores. While that number in itself was shocking, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India later put forth a more conservative figure, estimating the loss at 1.86 lakh crores. Nonetheless, the sheer scale of the financial discrepancy highlighted the gravity of the issue.
Prosecutors targeted Darda for alleged irregularities tied to the allocation of the Fatehpur (East) coal block in Chhattisgarh. The company implicated in this allocation was JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd.
But the legal challenges for Darda didn’t end with just this allegation. Special Judge Bharat Parashar laid out charges against a group that included not only Vijay Darda but also his son Devendra Darda, former Coal Secretary HC Gupta, and former Coal Ministry officials KS Kropha and KC Samria. Further deepening the company’s predicament, JLD Yavatmal Energy Ltd and its Director Manoj Kumar Jayaswal were also embroiled in the charges.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took the lead in the probe. They presented allegations that JLD Yavatmal had concealed information. Specifically, the company was accused of hiding prior allocations of four coal blocks made to its affiliate companies between 1999 and 2005.
However, the CBI was not the only regulatory body that set its sights on Darda. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) entered the fray, accusing him of money laundering. For someone of Darda’s stature, facing allegations from two of India’s most prominent investigative agencies simultaneously was an undeniable legal and public relations challenge.
Vijay Darda’s troubles were not confined only to the Coalgate scam. His media outlet, Lokmat, came under scrutiny as well. Accusations surfaced that Lokmat was disseminating fake news. This led to legal implications, with the matter being escalated to the High Court.
Some not so fortunate scamsters
Indian Politics has seen a myriad of financial scandals and corruptions, with diverse outcomes for those involved. While some have faced severe consequences for their actions, others, for reasons known or unknown, have managed to navigate these tumultuous waters with relative ease. Vijay Darda belongs to the latter group.
Let’s look at those who faced the music. Manish Sisodia, for instance, found himself behind bars over alleged irregularities amounting to a loss of around 2631 crores. Then there’s RJD Patriarch Lalu Yadav, who was convicted for his role in a 4800-crore fodder scam, with figures adjusted for 2023.
Influential politicians, despite their clout, have also had their moments of reckoning. Suresh Kalmadi, known for his significant role in (mis)organizing the Commonwealth Games, faced judicial action. Shri Prakash Jaiswal, too, was not immune from legal consequences.
And, perhaps one of the most talked-about names in recent Indian political history associated with financial scandals is Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister. Accusations regarding the Coalgate Scam have continued to swirl around him, though he has maintained his innocence throughout.
And if we’re talking about meteoric falls from grace, A Raja’s trajectory stands out. Once a dominant figure in Delhi’s political landscape and considered a kingmaker, the 2G Scam allegations led to his dramatic political downfall, reducing him to, what some might term, a political pauper.
Amidst all these names and their respective fates, Vijay Darda stands out. Despite his association with the Coalgate Scam, which involved enormous sums of money and had a profound impact on India’s political and economic landscape, Darda seems to have evaded the kind of fallout others have experienced.
In the vast arena of Indian politics and business, where accountability often seems selective and consequences can be as unpredictable as they are severe, Darda’s ability to remain unscathed is notable. This resilience or, perhaps, adept navigation, has led to him being labelled as ‘The Untouchable’ in some quarters.
The Media Omerta
Despite a conviction in 2013 for allegedly duping the government of sums ranging between 600 to 800 crores, Vijay Darda and his son, Devendra, aren’t serving time behind bars. Instead, they’re out on bail.
A similar theme of seeming impunity is evident in the case of Kishor, a relative of the Darda family. Accused of a grave crime—molesting schoolgirls in Yavatmal Girls School—he appears to have avoided due process, at least in the way many would expect.
So, what could possibly explain this apparent anomaly? Why does it seem that Vijay Darda and his family have managed to escape the more severe consequences that typically befall those in similar situations?
One prevailing theory points to the formidable influence of the media lobby in India. It’s no secret that media can shape narratives, influence perceptions, and sometimes even alter the course of justice. And in a nation as vast and diverse as India, a united front by the media can effectively “erase” certain narratives or individuals from public consciousness.
Across the ideological spectrum, from right to left, a curious silence seems to envelop the topic of Mr. Darda. It’s as if every major media house in the country is, either by choice or circumstance, unaware of who Vijay Darda is and the allegations associated with his name. The unsaid Omerta of Indian Media.
This lack of media coverage raises pertinent questions about the role of media in a democracy. Shouldn’t the media, often termed the fourth pillar of democracy, act as a watchdog, ensuring transparency and holding the powerful to account? If influential individuals can evade scrutiny due to media alliances or influence, it brings up concerns about the integrity and independence of journalism in the country.