Guptas have friends in high placesComment on this story
Johannesburg - The Gupta family’s political connections in South Africa are well known. But did their political connections on the other side of the Indian Ocean also play a part in the saga that erupted this week?
It’s hard to imagine that the Guptas’ closeness to President Jacob Zuma had nothing to do with their being given permission to land a large planeload of their wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force base.
Zuma himself knew nothing about it, we are told by officials, and was “hopping mad” when he heard what had happened precisely because he knew everyone would assume he had short-circuited proper procedures for his rich friends.
Well, maybe. But even if that’s true, it’s likely that all down the muddled chain of command that led to the decision to allow a Bollywood cast to occupy a military base, there were officials who said: “These are Zuma’s mates, I’d better okay this.”
And what about on the Indian side?
The reason given by the Indian High Commission in Pretoria for seeking permission from the South African authorities to land the aircraft at Waterkloof was the need to ensure security for government officials aboard.
South African officials are saying the High Commission failed to mention that there would also be more than 200 private wedding guests on the aircraft.
But that’s another issue.
According to the Indian media, the most prominent politicians on board included three senior politicians from the government of the state of Uttar Pradesh; Public Works Minister Shivpal Singh Yadav, Urban Development Minister Azam Khan, and Assembly Speaker Mata Prasad Pandey.
There are unconfirmed reports that other politicians from the state were also on board, including some from the Indian Congress Party, which heads the governing coalition at national level, and from the BJP, the main opposition to the national government.
Two ministers and an assembly speaker from a provincial government hardly seem to merit fuss, bother – and now, it turns out, considerable risk – of ensuring for them a special entry normally reserved for heads of state and the like.
In South African terms, they were roughly equivalent to MECs from Limpopo.
But the Uttar Pradesh politicians are evidently better connected than that.
Yadav in particular. His brother Mulayam Singh Yadav is a former defence minister in the national government, and remains a powerful leader in national politics, heading a regional party, Samajwadi Party, which has been in and out of the current ruling coalition for the past nine years.
He is also considered a long-shot candidate for future prime ministership, in the event of a very fractured outcome of the national elections due next year.
Both the Uttar Pradesh ministers who reportedly came to South Africa for the wedding, Shivpal Singh Yadav and Azam Khan, are members of his party.
The Gupta brothers who have done so well in South Africa - Ajay, Atul and Rajesh - originally migrated from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh in the early 1990s. But they still have family there.
Uttar Pradesh is considered the most important state in Indian politics because it has the most members of parliament.
Indian analysts thus believe that the political clout of the Guptas’ guests might have persuaded the Indian High Commission in Pretoria to go to great lengths to oblige them and the Guptas.
Whether the High Commission went too far is the question that could decide whether or not High Commissioner Virendra Gupta (not related) remains in his post in Pretoria.
There are calls within the South African government for him to be sent home.
He was due to meet senior Department of International Relations and Co-operation officials on Friday to explain why he should not be.