Purshottam Solanki took oath as a minister of state and then touched the feet of Gujarat Governor Kamla Beniwal, who had overruled the previous cabinet and sanctioned Solanki’s prosecution in a fishing contracts scam.
Also sworn in on Wednesday was Babu Bokhiria, an accused in an illegal mining scam in Porbandar. The fishing contracts scam involves Rs 400 crore, the mining one Rs 54 crore.
The two BJP leaders earned their berths after they decimated Congress heavyweights in the elections, each by over 17,000 votes. Solanki, 51, won by 18,554 votes against Shaktisinh Gohil, Congress Legislature Party leader in the previous assembly, and has been retained as a minister of state. And former minister Bokhiria, 59, won by 17,146 votes against Arjun Modhwadia, who has since resigned as state Congress president. Bokhiria has been given cabinet rank.
Solanki, “Bhai” to his hordes of supporters and arguably the tallest Koli leader in Gujarat, contested from Bhavnagar Rural constituency. He used to represent Ghogha and was shifted to the Rural seat after delimitation. The rout of Gohil came after some speculation that Solanki would not even contest, for he had not been keeping well for several months and had even been admitted to hospital in Mumbai virtually on the eve of the elections, reportedly for head injuries sustained after falling in the bathroom.
For Bokhiria, who had been irrigation minister earlier, the contest in Porbandar renewed a battle against an old rival. He had defeated Modhwadia in 1998 from the same seat, then lost to him in 2002.
In 2007, Bokhiria’s name had cropped up in an illegal limestone mining scandal in Porbandar. After evading arrest for some months, he eventually surrendered, spent a few months in jail and was granted bail, with the Gujarat High Court ordering him not to enter the limits of Porbandar. The case remains pending.
Solanki caused much embarrassment to the previous government when his name emerged in the Rs- 400-crore fishing contracts scam. As then minister for fisheries, Solanki was accused of giving away contracts for a state reservoir at throwaway prices without following the practice of floating tenders. The cabinet turned down a demand for Solanki’s criminal prosecution before the recommendation was overruled by the governor and sanction granted. Solanki faces several other criminal cases in Gujarat and Maharashtra.