Tale of Two Sons In-Law
By Poonam I Kaushish
This is the tale of two sons in law, Feroze Gandhi and Robert Vadra. The first, a bête noir of his father-in law India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The latter, has become the Achilles Heel of his brother-in-law and wife, Nehru’s great grandson and great granddaughter and Feroz’s grandson and granddaughter Congress President Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra. While Gandhi exposed corruption in independent India’s first Congress Government, Vadra has become the focus of alleged sleazy tales.
Recall, Feroze who married Nehru’s daughter and ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1942 is best remembered for spotlighting dishonesty in his father-in-law’s Government. Elected to Parliament in 1952, his exposure of la affaire Mundhra in 1957 wherein the LIC invested Rs. 1.24 crores in fraudulent shares of the industrialist company led to the resignation of then Finance Minister T.T. Krishnamachari, causing Nehru major embarrassment. The Justice MC Chagla Commission later sentenced Mundhra to 22 years in prison. Feroze also was the primary force behind industrialist Ram Kishan Dalmia’s imprisonment for defrauding his life insurance company in 1956.
Unlike Feroze, Robert Vadra, an ordinary boy from Moradabad was a small-time costume jewllery exporter till he hit headlines by marrying former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia’s daughter and Rahul’s sister Priyanka in 1997. But controversy began to follow him for all the wrong reasons when India Against Corruption (IAC) founder Arvind Kejriwal exposed his alleged “dirty linen” in 2012. It accused the country’s and Congress first ‘jawairaja’ of receiving undue favours and wealth from India’s biggest realty firm Delhi-based DLF. And asked Vadra to clarify how his wealth jumped from Rs 50 lakh in 2007 to Rs 300 crore in 2012?
Again Vadra along-with ex-Haryana Chief Minister Hooda was accused in a land deal involving DLF in Gurgaon. An FIR filed against them claims his Sky Light Hospitality purchased 3.5 acres of land in Sector 83 and sold it at a huge profit after obtaining a licence with Hooda’s help to develop it commercially. In return for helping Vadra, Hooda is accused of allotting 350 acres to DLF in violation of the law.
Complicating matters, the Enforcement Directorate accused Vadra of money laundering regarding possession of illegal foreign assets including two high-end properties and six flats in London worth 12 million pounds bought between 2005-10 from kickbacks in defence and petroleum deals during UPA1 Government. The BJP has joined the encore and is leaving no stone unturned to paint the ‘Congress jawairaja’ corrupt.
Vadra is also being investigated for acquiring 275 bigha land in Rajasthan’s Bikaner through his company, Sky Light Hospitality, allegedly in violation of rules. The Enforcement Directorate registered a case in 2015 after the Rajasthan police filed a chargesheet alleging forgery in the land allotment.
Now, with Priyanka entering the political arena as Congress General Secretary Vadra’s dubious deals seem to have gathered steam despite him being under investigation for some years post the Dhingra committee report on his links with the DLF. Undeniably, he is the Damocles’ sword over her head.
Predictably, Priyanka, like a pati-vratha wife underscored, “I stand by my family”, as the Enforcement Directorate subjected Vadra to over 15 hours of questioning over two days last week on his links with an arms dealer and money laundering.
Besides, if she and the Congress hoped to milk this politically, it fell flat as Vadra’s visit to the Enforcement Directorate has not stirred a leaf despite the Congress and Priyanka no longer playing defensive, instead they are accusing the BJP of “witch hunt and political vendetta.” It’s another matter that the Party has changed its earlier stance of “Vadra is a private citizen.”
Undoubtedly, the Congress is caught between a rock and hard place. If it tries to portray Vadra as BJP’s political revenge it could fall flat as he per se does not strike a chord, primarily, as in public perception, he does not belong to the “Gandhi-Congress parivar.” Unlike Feroze his surname is different.
Alongside, if the BJP succeeds in tom-toms him as yet another flunkey of Congress corruption it could damage the already slim chances the Party has in UP which accounts for 80 Lok Sabha seats. At such a critical time, the baggage of Vadra can sink the Congress.
Presently, both BJP and Congress are weighing their options. While BJP feels Priyanka’s appointment has brought the Vadra corruption scandals onto the “centre-stage”, which could benefit the Party. Others, however, state it could backfire if not handled sagaciously. Some aver the Party should observe the code of Omerta and let the law enforcement agencies take action. Not a few are puzzled why the Modi Government failed to act against Vadra earlier.
The Congress is waiting to see how this plays out. Senior Congress leaders worry whether flamboyant Vadra would remain in the background or start making public statements. Given that times out of number in the past he has made plain his political ambitions of fighting elections. It is a matter of time that India’s most controversial realtor with a questionable reputation makes his debut. However in the high-stakes power game he will face intense heat.
Consequently, with battle lines drawn in the forthcoming polls it remains to be seen how the Vadra scandal affects the Congress and Priyanka’s electoral chances in the event she decides to contest from family borough Rae Bariely or against NaMo. Either which way, both will have to deftly deal with their acidic baiters as there is no turning back.
True, the cynics shrug off the hue and cry over Vadra. “It will die down in a few days once a new scandal erupts, remember public memory is short,” said a seasoned leader. Some feel the Congress has shot itself in the foot. Instead of leaders competing with each other to defend him, Vadra should have been left to defend his case. That way, whatever the outcome, the Party would have kept itself out of any embarrassment.
The moot point is not only whether Vadra has done any wrong but it has brought three important issues to the fore. One, if Vadra is a “private citizen” why is the Congress defending him? And so clumsily? Two, is it because he could open the Pandora’s Box of Gandhi family secrets? Three, it exposes the hypocrisy of “political maryada”, the unwritten code of honour among our netagan not to rake up crimes of omission and commission of their rivals families.
Mum is the word from the BJP when it comes to corrupt acts of its Partymen and foes-turned-friends. Example, West Bengal’s Shardha scam accused who have recently joined the Sangh have been given a clean chit. All adhering to a “live-and-let-live” policy for fear of mutual destruction. Sic.
What next? Will the Vadra case be a political game changer for the Congress? Is it a gamble BJP will regret? Many are confident that the case once again highlights corruption in high place wherein the aam aadmi realizes that ghooskhori has morphised from behind closed doors to open loot. One hopes Probity does not become the oxymoron to the Indian Politicians. —- INFA