Over the last decade, Anil Madhav Dave, the new Union minister of state for environment, forests and climate change, assiduously cultivated for himself the image of an environmentalist, thinker, writer, river conservationist and political strategist – all rolled into one.

But for all his labour, the image of this former pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in his home state of Madhya Pradesh is that of a profligate event manager of grandiose ideas. That image endures within his party, the Bhartiya Janata Party, and outside it.

Ace networker

Dave was in the news a few months ago in connection with the Vaicharik Kumbh, a three-day-long international symposium to discuss the spiritual and environmental messages of the Simhastha Kumbh. The conclave was held at Ninaura village near Ujjain, during the period of the month-long Simhastha Kumbh, which ended on May 22.

Supervised by Dave, the conclave cost the state Rs 100 crore. Among the expenses was the construction of a luxury hut for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stay in, which cost Rs 4 crore. However, while Modi attended the grand spiritual conference – he was the chief guest on the concluding day – he did not stay in that hut.

The deliberations at the meet were summed up in a 51-point declaration that referred to the spiritual way of balancing development with environmental conservation. Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced that he would implement the Ninaura charter as guiding principles for the state. However, nothing has been heard on the subject since.

Besides planning and executing the conclave, Dave was also one of the main organisers of events connected to the Simhastha Kumbh, which cost the state Rs 5,000 crore, nearly 18 times more than the previous Mahakumbh held 12 years ago.

Dave earned praise from Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah for his role in organising the Simhastha Kumbh. A month after the Kumbh concluded, Dave was re-nominated for the Rajya Sabha. And during the Cabinet reshuffle on July 5, he was rewarded further with the environment ministry.

Last September, Dave saw to it that the three-day World Hindi Conference held in Bhopal was converted into a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh event. As vice president of the organising committee, Dave succeeded in persuading the External Affairs Ministry, the event’s main organiser, to exclude noted Hindi littérateurs from the conference.

Instead, Dave sought to keep the focus of the conference on technological innovations in the Hindi language in collaboration with noted software companies. The conference provoked a huge controversy for what littérateurs dubbed its misplaced focus, but the RSS was pleased with its outcome.

Following this, Dave’s profile as an ace event manager went several notches up within the Sangh Parivar. At the time of the Hindi conference too, Chouhan announced that he would implement the 10-point conclusions of that conference, but they haven’t been mentioned since.

Media manager to minister

Anil Dave may have remained a trained pilot and an unsuccessful businessman if BJP leader Uma Bharti hadn’t drafted him as her media manager when she contested from Bhopal during the 1999 general elections.

Bharti was impressed by his skills. When she was projected as the Bhartiya Janata Party’s chief ministerial candidate against the Congress government led by Digvijay Singh in the run up to the 2003 Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, she made Dave her main strategist. Dave was credited with coining the epithet Mr Bantadhar (Mr Doomed) for the former Congress chief minister during the polls, which the BJP won.

The suave Gujarati Brahmin from Badnagar in Ujjain district soon endeared himself to the party’s central party leadership. Dave’s strong ties with the RSS and networking across the Sangh Parivar ensured that a succession of chief ministers – from Uma Bharti to Babulal Gaur to Shivraj Singh Chouhan in a span of 15 months – did not affect his political clout in the state. He gradually emerged as Chouhan’s chief troubleshooter in the political arena. Dave also leveraged his cordial relations with the chief minister to fit in his acolytes in culture institutes, government-funded voluntary organisations and academia.

Dave, an ace networker, founded the Narmada Samagra in 2005, which is now the most powerful non-government organisation in Madhya Pradesh. Under its aegis, Dave organised four international river conferences on the banks of the Narmada in Hoshangabad district. However, the meetings, which ended with grand pledges, have done little to conserve the holy river, which is being destroyed by rampant sand mining.

In fact, most illegal mining is being carried out under the patronage of Dave’s party.

Dave has written eight books, many on the environment. However, these haven’t helped him wash away the image of an opportunist who has no qualms in utilising state government funds to burnish his image.