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Matter For A Probe
Throughout a choleric election campaign, Narendra Modi repeatedly accused Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul of running a ‘maa bete ki sarkar’, while Robert Vadra was projected as its biggest beneficiary. Late in April, the BJP even released Damaad Shri, a poorly produced video accusing Haryana and Rajasthan’s Congress governments of helping Vadra acquire land at windfall profits.
No wonder there is hushed expectation in Delhi’s party circuit around what retribution the new BJP government, with its emphasis on clean governance, will mete out to the Congress first family. What the chatterati do not know is that despite the rhetoric, peace overtures between the warring sides are already under way. It is learnt that a male, telegenic and globe-trotting lobbyist who inhabits treacherous ideological terrains has stepped in to broker a truce.
Noises from the establishment lend credence to such gossip. Union minister of commerce, finance and corporate affairs Nirmala Sitharaman, when asked about probable action on Vadra’s land deal cases, said, “I don’t know.” Of course, there’s time enough for action. Seeing that the BJP top brass was occupied in the constitution and swearing-in of Modi’s cabinet until recently, only the politically naive would think the Congress leadership is safe. BJP wingmen seem to have bought into this idea. Take this headline from ‘bold and right’ NitiCentral on May 19: ‘Mrs Vadra is in trouble and she knows it’.
Significantly, the guns trained so far on Robert Vadra have suddenly been turned on to his wife, Priyanka, the very embodiment of Congress hopes. An up-and-coming BJP leader says, “Whatever we had to say on Mr Vadra, we have said during our campaign.” Modi may well go ahead and institute an inquiry. Yet, he has been ambivalent on the topic. For time and again, he has also said there will be no witch-hunt and the law will take its own course.
But a probe seems unlikely, especially since focus has moved to a petty crime of Priyanka: that she held multiple ‘unique’ identities given by the ministry of corporate affairs. Priyanka simply apologised for her ‘mistake’. Multiple Director Identity Numbers (DINS) have unfortunate tax implications for the exchequer, Subramanian Swamy, veteran Gandhi baiter, reiterated on social media platforms last week. When a minor fire broke out in Shastri Bhawan in New Delhi, Swamy raced online to tweet: “BC fraud on multiple DINS is a genetic disease: his mother has multiple DINS. Family of chors! Who set Min of Corp office on fire today?”
Where all this will end is anybody’s guess. Senior advocate Prashant Bhushan, member of India Against Corruption, which first revealed Vadra’s lucrative land deals, allegedly involving DLF, says a serious investigation can prove conspiracy between officials, politicians and Robert Vadra and his associates. “Outright corruption is most apparent in the land deal by Vadra at Gurgaon,” he says. If BJP stalwarts like Ravi Shankar Prasad get it right, action in Vadra’s case will prove serious intent on tackling a new kind of corruption, where illegality is tough to establish though windfall gains are apparent. Interestingly, DLF heir-apparent Rajiv Singh was at Modi’s swearing in on May 26.
Even IAS officer Ashok Khemka (who played a major role in exposing the Vadra deals) is not optimistic. “What seems clear is that there’s massive public anger against the deal. And there’s a mandate for development.... Even so, development means different things to different people. It won’t be served by hounding people.” The Vadra land deals mattered only in the last 15 days of the election, he says.
Clearly, politics is at the root of the equivocation. Haryana voted for the BJP in unprecedented numbers and the Vadra case was an issue, but Modi didn’t bring it up at his rally there, choosing Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to raise the alleged iniquities of the Gandhis. A source in the Haryana government says that in all the poll hullaballoo, Vadra’s deals in Palwal somehow escaped attention. “The rules allow one entity to own up to 56 acres, but Vadra is said to own 75. This needs to be examined,” he says.
In Rajasthan, where Vadra stands similarly accused, cases have gone nowhere, though the state BJP released a ‘Black Paper’ on 100 Gahlot-era ‘scams’ before last year’s assembly polls, which a resurgent BJP under Vasundhararaje won handsomely. “Despite a full majority, Vasundhararaje did not take action on any issue she aggressively raised during campaigning,” says Rakesh Parikh, an Aam Aadmi Party leader. The Congress, meanwhile, murmured about investigating ‘Snoopgate’ last month, only adding to the din of a ‘witchhunt’ versus ‘law taking its course’.
DLF, which has been consistently denying any wrongdoing, reiterated its position. “There is no case for a probe. All our dealings were above board,” says a spokesperson. He adds, “I don’t think the BJP believes in a witch-hunt. Modi has made it quite clear in his speeches.” Man-about-town Suhel Seth, a keen observer of the just-concluded polls, who has weighed in on the side of ‘development’ this time, seems to concur. “Let me tell you something. I know Mr Modi a little and Mr Modi is not a vindictive man.”
In Congress circles, the buzz is that there’s enough meat on former Vasundhararaje confidant Lalit Modi’s past land deals in Rajasthan. Ultimately, even that case is a tangled affair and tough to prove, but they give the Congress an opportunity for reciprocal mud-slinging. Actually, at the close of a season never short of acrimony, most of the heavy ammo is put away in favour of a resumption of business as usual. ‘Let bygones be bygones’ seems to be the silent consensus among sworn political foes for now.