In air hostess’ death, a politician’s role could emerge in emails

New Delhi: Gopal Goyal Kanda, the Haryana minister who resigned after a young woman named him in her suicide note earlier this week, has denied that he had a role in her death. Mr Kanda says that cellphone records will establish he had not spoken for two months to Geetika Sharma, who had worked for him at an airline that he owned and ran, named MDLR. Ms Sharma’s family has alleged that a phone call from the politician agitated her in the hours before she hung herself from a fan early on Sunday morning at her home in Delhi.

Mr Kanda, who was Minister of State for Home in the Congress government in Haryana, said that he had quit to help ensure a fair inquiry. The police has been criticized for not questioning Mr Kanda yet. “We are only going to question him after we have collected all evidence, we want to have an exact understanding of the case and his role,” said a senior police officer handling the case. The police also said that Ms Sharma’s family had complained of threats from Mr Kanda, and has been given security. Ms Sharma’s relatives have handed over her laptop to the police, along with what they describe as a threatening email sent by the politician to her.

Mr Kanda has confirmed that he knew Ms Sharma’s family and “occasionally visited” their house with his wife.

The former minister, who has been charged with abetment of suicide, says Ms Sharma, who was 23, was well-treated when she worked with MDLR, which is now defunct.

From 2006 to 2009, Ms Sharma flew with MDLR.  When the company went under, she moved to the UAE to fly with Emirates Airlines.  She returned to India in 2011 and joined another company owned by Mr Kanda, Super Sonic, which deals with cables. In May this year, she quit her job there because she wanted to study. Mr Kanda says his firm gave her 7.5 lakhs to enrol for an MBA.

Ms Sharma’s family alleges that when she was in the UAE, she was harassed and blackmailed by Mr Kanda and Aruna Sharma, one of his senior executives, to return to Delhi and work for him.

Mr Kanda says the air hostess approached him for a job, not the other way around.

“We heard that she took a job with the Emirates. She returned after eight months or so and appeared to be disturbed. She requested us for a job in our company again and we accommodated her on the basis of her good track record,” Mr Kanda said in a statement emailed to the media.

Mr Kanda, who is 47, is a wealthy businessman who started out as a footwear manufacturer, and whose business interests today include real estate and hospitality. He formed a political affinity with the Congress in 2005 after the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), the party headed by the Chautalas, was voted out of power.

Once a Chautala insider, Mr Kanda began eyeing the Congress for his political future. After failing to get a INLD ticket in 2009, he contested the assembly election as an independent from Sirsa, and won the Chautala stronghold, defeating Laxman Dass Arora, a man who had won the constituency five times.

The Haryana assembly has 90 seats; the Congress had 40, less than the half-way mark, so independents like Mr Kanda were needed to form the government.  Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda rewarded him with the Home portfolio- particularly useful for him since he had three major cases pending against him including including a case of rioting with a weapon, and voluntarily “causing hurt to deter (a) public servant from duty.”

In 2010, he was caught on camera abusing INLD workers at a Congress rally in Sirsa. In July 2011, his security guards assaulted former cricketer Atul Wassan when his car tried to overtake Mr Kanda’s at the Gurgaon toll plaza.

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