Ranjan Bhattacharya - 'the damaad' everyone forgot

Before Robert Vadra, there was Ranjan Bhattacharya, the foster son-in-law of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who reportedly pulled strings from the background while his father-in-law was Prime Minister and managed to evade attention, until Arvind Kejriwal chose to target famous son-in-laws.

Bhattacharya isn't easily described, primarily because he chose to actively shun the spotlight. Married to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's foster-daughter, Namita, Bhattacharya even while occupying his seat of power in 7 Race Course Road maintained a low profile at all times, including while on political tours, something Vadra has found it more difficult to adhere to.

"Robert's flamboyance, his Page 3 habits, put him in the firing line of those gunning for the Gandhi family. Ranjan did not exist for Vajpayee enemies," a political observer was quoted as saying in a Times of India report.

A graduate with economics honours from Delhi's Shri Ram College of Commerce, Bhattacharya reportedly met his wife while studying. He then joined the Oberoi Group and became the a general manager of the group's hotel in Srinagar, a Rediff column on Bhattacharya stated.

Bhattacharya reportedly lost both parents while he was still young and it brought him closer to his wife's family and Vajpayee, who he referred to as 'Bappaji'. His devotion was proven when he toured the nation with his father-in-law voluntarily in 1996, but was careful even then to ensure that none in the BJP could accuse him of mooching off his in-laws.

Appointed an Officer on Special Duty, while his father in law was Prime Minister, Bhattacharya stuck to the shadows but quickly became known as the man to go to in the PMO, but never over stated his power and ever affable, as the Rediff columnist noted:

His detractors complain he has a hand in every deal that goes through these days; from the Maruti settlement to Surjeet Singh Barnala's decision to not import sugar. But most concede that such allegations are part of a smear campaign against his father-in-law. Ranjan is more practical. Tell him this and he'll laugh and come up with three more allegations against him: 'There's also a rumour about me in some telecom scandal as well. How come you haven't heard that one?' he'll ask; and offer you some more coffee at his office in Delhi's Greater Kailash.

He could reportedly be found relaxing with ministers over a drink in the middle of the day, while his father-in-law met with foreign delegations, and at times even had a say in who would become the next finance secretary.

Screengrab of the Outlook cover story on Ranjan Bhattacharya.

In his memoirs, A Lucknow Boy, former editor of Outlook Vinod Mehta spoke of how the magazine had flagged off various deals in which Bhattacharya reportedly had a more than important role to play:

Topping the list was the Rs 58,000-crore national highways project which had been moving at a frenetic pace because of the extra push being given by the PMO. The first lot of contracts had been awarded to a clutch of seven dubious Malaysian firms. The Rs 20,000-crore Reliance Hirma power project, referred to earlier, was also on Ranjan’s radar. He and the PMO were pushing the Reliance case for a counter guarantee which amounted to a gift for Reliance.

Mehta also wrote of how the PMO had decided to allow a telecom policy, allegedly pushed through by India's biggest industrial houses, which had led to ally Samata Party writing to the Prime Minister seeking to check Bhattacharya's influence.

However, Mehta soon discovered that Bhattacharya was out of bounds when Vajpayee told him in no uncertain words that Bhattacharya's conduct was as "pure as snow". It was followed by a series of IT raids on the proprieter of Outlook.

Bhattacharya's name also featured briefly during reports of the UTI scam and in the sale of government hotels, but the allegations never stuck, at least never long enough to matter, the Times report noted.

Bhattacharya quietly vanished once his father-in-law lost power and faded away from the political limelight. If it weren't for the Niira Radia tapes scandal and Kejriwal, who chose to drag him back into the spotlight, it might just have been a perfect disappearing act.