Now, yet another controversy is brewing around the suit, which has been on auction in Surat’s Science Museum since Wednesday.
As it turns out, the biggest bid for the suit thus far has come from Komal Kant Sharma, a man under the Income Tax scanner at least a while back for possession of black money. He has offered Rs 1.4 crore for the threads.
In February 2012, Income Tax officials had raided three companies in Bhavnagar, one of which was the ship-breaking arm of Leela Ship Recycling. This ship recycling company, in turn, is a subsidiary of the Leela Group – of which Sharma is the Chief Managing Director. Among the Leela Group’s activities are diamond trading and shipbuilding.
During the raid, officials reportedly seized Rs 2.1 crore in cash and gold and Rs 3.9 crore worth of silver jewellery from all three companies. They also recovered documents that suggested people associated with the companies had stored unaccounted money in real estate projects in Bhavnagar. According to NDTV, Sharma claimed that the raid was the result of a technical error and that he has been cleared.
Leela Ship Recycling is one of the larger ship recyclers in Gujarat. It prides itself on its environment-friendly recycling process. It even won the Asia Responsible Entrepreneurship Award for green leadership in 2012. But in 2009, it was embroiled in controversy as activist groups refused to allow it to dock Platinum-II, a ship they feared was too toxic for India’s shores.
The monogrammed suit has grabbed attention from the word go. It was given to Modi by NRI businessman Rameshkumar Bhikabhai Virani on the occasion of his son’s wedding. But this was revealed only as the indignation over the suit and its cost swelled. To contain the outrage, Virani said that his son would not have dared to spend as much Rs 10 lakh on it. However, he declined to reveal how much it actually cost.
Rs 10 lakh is nothing compared to the bids the suit has attracted.
At least some of the generous offers have come from Modi’s friends and admirers, who are rallying to ensure that his suit remains the highest-priced item in the Surat auction.
Take Mukesh Patel, a diamond trader from Surat who made a bid of Rs 1.39 crore minutes before Sharma placed his bid of Rs 1.41 crore. In 2012, Modi and Patel attended the marriage of Rameshkumar Virani’s nephew in Surat. A gossip columnist at the Indian Express reportedthat Modi and Patel spent an entire hour together in a private discussion. Modi then attended Patel’s vaastu ceremony in Surat.
Then there are the admirers.
One is Rajesh Maheshwari, the Surat businessman who bid Rs 1.25 crore for the suit on Wednesday. Maheshwari is the founder of a Global Modi Fan Club. The club has 5,000 members who all agreed to contribute Rs 50,000 each to the cause of acquiring the pinstriped suit.
Another is Rajesh Juneja, owner of Preet Fashion in Surat, who bid Rs 1.21 crore. In an interview with the Economic Times, Juneja described Modi as his role model: “I have seen him working tirelessly during Surat floods a few years back. It is this love for him that brought me here today.”
Also at the auction at Surat’s Science Museum are 455 other gifts Modi has received in his tenure as prime minister. None of them have received anywhere near as much interest as the suit. The proceeds of the auction will go to the government’s Clean Ganga campaign.