Why Rahul Gandhi doesn't really mean what he says

rahul gandhi Vivek Kaul
In an interview to the Tehekla magazine in September 2005, Rahul Gandhi, now the Vice President of the Congress party, is said to have remarked that I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to.”
The statement created an uproar. The Congress party immediately jumped to the defence of its princling. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the then Congress spokesperson, specifically mentioned that Rahul had not said ‘I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to’.
Tehakla initially stood by its story but backed down later. “This seems to be a clear case of misunderstanding. Mr Gandhi thought he was having a casual chat whereas our reporter took it to be a proper interview,” the weekly said
in a statement.(The ‘edited’ casual chat can still be read on Tehelka’s website).
On another occasion Gandhi remarked
“Please do not take it as any kind of arrogance, but having seen enough prime ministers in the family…it is not such a big deal. In fact, I often wonder why should you need a post to serve the nation.” (Source: Decoding Rahul Gandhi, Aarthi Ramachandran).
Gandhi’s obsession on clarifying that he is not in the race, seems to have continued. “Asking me whether you want to be prime minister is a wrong question,” he recently told journalists. In fact he even went onto add that he did not want to get married because marriage leads to children and a lust for power. “I feel we should all be detached from power. Only then we can contribute to the society better. You people ask me about my marriage plans. Sometimes, I think, if I marry and have children, I would want my children to take my position,” he said.
The spin doctors of the Congress party have been working overtime to portray this statement of their princling as a great sacrifice. But being married has got no link with running political fiefdoms and lusting for power. As Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar writes in
a recent column in The Times of India “Mayawati and Jayalalithaa are both unmarried and without kids, and they run fiefdoms no less feudal than the Congress. Absence of children has never meant decentralisation.” This argument also works for Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik in Orissa and Narendra Modi in Gujarat, who also run political fiefdoms despite having no children. So the lust for power or politicians running political fiefdoms, has got nothing to do with being married or not.
Also the question is that what can Rahul Gandhi get done as a Prime Minister that he cannot get done being outside the government (assuming that the Congress led UPA continues to be in power)? As Tavleen Singh writes in
a recent column in The Indian Express Rahul already has more power than almost any politician in India other than his mother. So why should he want something he already has?”
Other than wanting to be detached from power, Rahul Gandhi also wants to empower middle-level leaders. “Today, I see how MPs feel without power and it is the same story in all the parties, be it the Congress or the BJP. I want to empower the 720-odd MPs in Parliament. I want to give voice to the middle tier, empower the middle-level leaders,” he said.
While he can’t do anything about the BJP, what is he doing about the Congress? Not much seems to be the answer. The upper ranks of the Congress party seem to be filled with sons/daughters of Congress leaders. In fact, Rahul’s boys, a term I use for the relatively younger leaders in the Congress party supposed to be close to the princling, are all sons of Congress leaders. As Aiyar writes “After talking for years about promoting youth in politics, you have indeed promoted many newcomers to important ministerial positions. They are young by Indian standards, but many have greying hair. The list in New Delhi includes Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora and Jitin Prasad.”
Nothing seems to have been done about the Congress tradition of the so called “high command” appointing the Chief Minister, in case the party happens to win a state election or even otherwise. This trend was most recently visible in Uttarakhand where the majority of the MLAs wanted Harish Rawat as the Chief Minister, but had to make do with the high command’s choice of Vijay Bahaguna ( who interestingly is the son of the late H N Bahuguna, who was with the Congress party for most of his life). The high command also appointed Prithiviraj Chavan (whose father and mother were both Congress MPs), a political lightweight who was not a member of the state assembly, as the Chief Minister of Maharashtra when they wanted to replace the scam tainted Ashok Chavan (son of SB Chavan, another Congress leader).
The points made above are not exactly rocket science. And I am sure Rahul Gandhi understands them as well as the others. As Tavleen Singh writes in The Indian Express Rahul Gandhi knows this as well as anyone else in politics, and if he wants to change things, then this is terrific. But why does he not get on with it? Why does he not begin by ensuring that next time the Congress party wins elections in some state, the high command is not given the task of choosing the chief minister? Why does he not ensure that next time a parliamentary constituency reports a vacancy, it does not get handed down to an heir?”
Singh in her column writes that as a responsible political pundit she has been mulling over what Rahul Gandhi said, and she remains “puzzled” and “mystified” by it.
This writer believes that there is an answer to what Singh refers to as a mystery and a puzzle. Allow me to explain. The writer Ramachandra Guha told me in an interview late last year that “I think this dynasty (Gandhi) is now on its last legs. Its charisma is fading with every generation.”
This is something that Shekhar Gupta also pointed out in The Indian Express “Ask any Congress leader who contests elections (unlike its star cast of chronic Rajya Sabhaists) and they will admit to you, albeit in whispers and fearfully glancing left and right, that the days when the Gandhi family could win them their seats are over. In the elections, now, it is every man for himself.”
This has been proven in Uttar Pradesh elections and the Bihar elections before that where the Congress party was routed. Rahul Gandhi was closely involved with both the elections. Given this the ability of Rahul Gandhi or for that matter his mother Sonia, to get in the votes for the party, is very limited. They are not in the same league as Jawahar Lal Nehru, Indira Gandhi or even Rajiv Gandhi, before them. Gupta explains it best when he writes “their ability to win seats beyond the Amethi-Rae Bareli enclave has diminished to insignificance.”
It would be foolish to believe that Rahul or Sonia do not understand this. Hence, they need the Scindias and the Deoras and the Pilots and the Prasads, of the world to continue winning elections. The smaller princlings within the party who can continue bringing in the votes from all across the country. The Congress party may be a shadow of what it was in the past, but it continues to remain India’s largest party. And for it to hold onto what it has, it needs to continue with the feudal structure that totally encapsulates it, with the Gandhis at the top.
In fact when the party has tried to get rid of its feudal structure it has had disastrous results. Take the case of Andhra Pradesh. After the death of Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, his son Jagan Mohan, wanted to become the Chief Minister. And that was not allowed. Jagan Mohan left to form his own party and is expected to widely damage the electoral prospects of the Congress party in a state which sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha.
On the flip side, even though the Gandhis are no longer the vote winners they once were, they are still very important to the idea of Congress. As Gupta put it in his column “I asked a senior (and always elected) Congress leader, then why was the Gandhi family still so important and had total sway over the party. He said, surely they cannot help anybody win elections, but they keep the party together. Their word is law and the party needs that discipline. Illustration: the moment Sonia or Rahul says something, everybody nods and falls in line. If Narasimha Rao or Sitaram Kesri said something, everybody broke out in rebellion and rashes.” So even though the Gandhis may not bring in the votes, they do help keep the Congress flock together.
Given this is in nobody’s interest, neither the Congress party, nor Rahul Gandhi (or for that matter his mother Sonia) to disturb the status quo. The Congress needs the Gandhis to survive as a party, and the Gandhis need the seats in the Parliament and the state assemblies to continue to be relevant.
In October 2008, while addressing girl students at a resort near Jim Corbett National Park, Rahul Gandhi referred to “politics” as a closed system in India. “If I had not come from my family, I wouldn’t be here. You can enter the system either through family or friends or money. Without family, friends or money, you cannot enter the system. My father was in politics. My grandmother and great grandfather were in politics. So, it was easy for me to enter politics. This is a problem. I am a symptom of this problem. I want to change it.”
More such statements will be made in the days to come. Meanwhile, the symptom and the problem will continue to co-exist.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on March 12, 2013 

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

Every ‘young’ minister in new-look UPA govt is a dynast

Vivek Kaul
“It is a combination of youth and experience,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after reshuffling his ministers yesterday. The reshuffle saw 17 new faces become ministers.
The average age of the 17 new ministers is 52.4 years, with the youngest Sachin Pilot having turned 35 in September this year, and the oldest Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury will turn 75 in early January next year. Also Pilot is the only minister who is less than 40 years of age.
So the question is where is the youth that Manmohan Singh was talking about? Unless of course Dr Singh was referring to the old Bob Dylan number that went somewhat like this.
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung
May you stay forever young
Forever young, forever young
May you stay forever young
The bigger question though is does the Congress have young leaders who are not hereditary leaders i.e. they are in politics because their fathers and grandfathers were also in politics.
Sachin Pilot is the son of Rajesh Pilot who was a formidable Congress leader till he died in a car crash. He also happens to the son-in-law of Dr Farooq Abdullah, the Jammu and Kashmir strongman. His brother in law Omar is the current chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
The other so called young gun to be inducted as a minister is Jyotiraditya Scindia. He will turn 42 on January 1, 2013. He comes from a royal family and his grandmother Vijayaraje Scindia and father Madhavrao Scindia were both career politicians.
Patrick French in his book India: A Portrait released in early 2011 carried out a very interesting piece of research. As he pointed out “Every MP in the Lok Sabha under the age of 30 had in effect inherited a seat, and more than two-thirds of the 66 MPs aged 40 or under were hereditary MPs… Of the 38 youngest MPs, 33 had arrived with the help of mummy-daddy. Of the remaining five, one was Meenakshi Natarajan, the biochem graduate who had been hand-picked by Rahul, three appeared to be self-made politicians who had made it up the ranks of the BJP, BSP and CPI(M) respectively, and the fifth was a Lucknow University mafioso who had been taken on board by Mayawati: he was a “history-sheeter”—meaning numerous criminal chargesheets had been laid against him—who had been involved in shootouts and charged four times under the Gangsters Act.”
Of course the babalog also tend to start earlier than the ones who make it on their own. As French writes “In addition, this new wave of Indian lawmakers would have a decade’s advantage in politics over their peers, since the average MP who had benefited from family politics was almost 10 years younger than those who had arrived with ‘No Significant Family Background’… The average age of an MP with no significant family background was 58; for a hereditary MP it was 48.”
This trend is even more extreme in the Congress Party. “In the Congress, the situation was yet more extreme: every Congress MP under the age of 35 was a hereditary MP,” writes French.
So the point is that the Congress Party in particular and the Indian Parliament in general doesn’t have many young leaders who have made it on their own.
And if some recent biographies of Rahul Gandhi and some not recent ones of Sonia Gandhi are to be believed, this is the reason Rahul has stayed away from the government. He is trying to build internal democracy within the Congress party, so that a new genuine crop of younger leaders comes up.
As French writes quoting Rahul Gandhi “There are three-four ways of entering politics,” he said frankly to a gathering of students in Madhya Pradesh. “First, if one has money and power. Second, through family connections. I am an example of that. Third, if one knows somebody in politics. And fourth, by working hard for the people.” Unlike many of the other young hereditary MPs, he did not pretend otherwise. “Main apne pita, nani aur pardada ke bina us jagah par nahin pahunch sakta tha jahan main aaj hoon(Without my father, grandmother and great-grandfather, I could never have been in the place that I am now.)” This can be aptly titled the Rahul Gandhi syndrome.
Rahul Gandhi wants to set this right within the Congress and is thus trying to build an internal democratic structure within the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. As Aarthi Ramachandran writes in Decoding Rahul Gandhi “The Youth Congress decided it was ready to hold its first internal elections in mid-2008. The process was handled by an independent NGO, Foundation for Advanced Management of Elections (FAME), started by former election commissioners K J Rao, James Lyndogh N Gopalswami and T S Krishnamurthy.”
The first such election was held in Punjab. And what was the result? “Not everything went according to plan. Though Rahul himself camped in Amritsar to make sure the election lived up to the expectations of being the first free and fair one, the old Congress reared its head through the process. Ravneet Singh ‘Bittu’, the grandson of former Congress Chief minister, Beant Singh, became the first elected Punjab Youth Congress president. He had the backing of the former chief minister of Punjab, Captain Amrinder Singh. This raised questions about whether the elections had indeed ushered in internal democracy,” writes Ramachandran. Bittu when he was elected was 33.
This is a worrying trend. And even plays out in the context of elected women MPs in the Congress Party. As French writes “The Congress presently had 208 MPs, of whom 23 were women. This was the same as average, 11 per cent. So far so low; now comes the difference: 19 out of the 23 Congress women MPs were hereditary (and of these, four were hyperhereditary). This left only four Congress women MPs who appeared to have reached Parliament on their own merit: Meenakshi Natarajan, Annu Tandon, and two other stalwarts. Who were they? Dr Girija Vyas, the president of the National Commission for Women, and Chandresh Kumari Katoch, who turned out to be hereditary by another measure, being the daughter of Hanwant Singh, the maharaja of Jodhpur.”
Entry into politics in India has become like a family owned business where the sons(and now daughters) are destined to takeover irrespective of the fact whether they have the aptitude for the job or not. French puts it best when he says “If the trend continued, it was possible that most members of the Indian Parliament would be there by heredity alone, and the nation would be back to where it had started before the freedom struggle, with rule by a hereditary monarch and assorted Indian princelings.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 29,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/politics/every-young-minister-in-new-look-upa-govt-is-a-dynast-506497.html#disqus_thread
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Rahul: Reluctant politician who was once afraid of the dark

When Rahul Gandhi was young he was afraid of the dark. He felt that darkness held ghosts and bad things. His grandmother Indira Gandhi helped him overcome that fear. As Aarthi Ramachandran writes in Decoding Rahul Gandhi “Speaking to young children at the opening of a science fair at a Delhi school in November 201 he(i.e. Rahul) told them how he was scared of darkness when he was young as he felt it held “ghosts” and “bad things”. Then, he said, one day his grandmother had asked him why he didn’t go and see himself what was inside the darkness. So, he had walked into the garden in the dark and he had kept walking and then realised suddenly that ‘there was nothing there in the darkness to be scared of’.” And thus Rahul overcame the fear of darkness and ghosts.
The life of Rahul Gandhi has largely been a mystery for India and Indians. Where was he educated? Where did he work before joining politic full time? What are his views on various things? What does he think about the current state of the Indian economy? What does he think of the government which his mother Sonia runs through the remote control? Does he have a girl friend? When does he plan to marry? Why hasn’t he given any interviews to the media since 2005?
These are questions both personal and professional that Indians would love to have answers for. Aarthi Ramachandran answers some of these questions in her new book Decoding Rahul Gandhi.
After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, both Rahul and his sister Priyanka were largely taught at home. Ramachandran quotes out of Sonia Gandhi’s book Rajiv: ““The day of my mother-in-law’s assassination was the last day Rahul and Priyanka ever attended school…For the next five years the children remained at home, studying with tutors, virtually imprisoned. The only space outside our four walls where they could step without cordon of security was our garden,” Sonia wrote.”
Rahul is a year and a half older to his sister Priyanka and was a student of the St Columba’s school before the assassination of his grandmother. But both Rahul and Priyanka ended up in the same class despite their age difference. “Rahul’s education was disrupted due to that incident (Indira Gandhi’s assassination) and he dropped a year of school, possibly the same year that Indira died. Rajiv was asked how both Rahul and Priyanka were in the same class during an interview in 1988. “Only one year separates them. And with all the shifting, they came to be in the same class. But that has one advantage: they can be taught each subject by the same tutor. Now, we can’t possibly keep separate tutors for each of them, that would be too expensive,” he quipped – both children were being home tutored,” writes Ramachandran.
Rahul joined Delhi’s St Stephens College in 1989 to study history. He got admission under the sports quota. And there was a lot of controversy surrounding his admission. As Ramachandran points out “When Rahul entered Delhi’s prestigious St. Stephen’s College in 1989 after finishing his schooling, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) claimed his admission, under the sports quota for his skills in rifle shooting, was invalid.  The allegation appeared to be that with 61 per cent marks in his school-leaving examinations, Rahul was not academically bright enough to enter the college. The BJP’s Delhi chief at that time, Madam Lal Khurana, claimed that Rahul’s certificates in shooting were fake.” The National Rifle Association came to Rahul’s rescue issuing a statement in his favour about his ability as a rifle shooter.  During Rahul’s time at Stephens 20-25 special protection group (SPG) guards would be all over the college with sling bags which supposedly had guns.
After a year at Stephens, Rahul left for Harvard. There is very little clarity on the period he was at Harvard or the subjects he studied there. “It has been widely reported in the Indian media and some foreign publications that Rahul took courses in economics at Harvard,” writes Ramachandran. “Neither Rahul nor Harvard officials have confirmed this. Rahul did not respond to questions about this course of study and the time period he was at Harvard….Harvard too said it could not disclose details about Rahul Gandhi’s time at Harvard.”
Though Harvard did confirm that Rahul was a student without getting into the specifics of the time period or the courses he attended. In May 1991 Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. This compelled him to take a transfer to Rollins College in Florida and from here graduated with a BA in 1994. The website of the college lists him as alumnus who graduated in International Relations.
After this, Rahul went to get an MPhil in developmental studies from the Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom. There has been some controversy surrounding this as well. “In the run up to the 2009 general elections…The New Indian Express alleged that Rahul had not only got the name of his course wrong but also the year. The paper said he had attended the course only in 2004-05. It produced a certificate from the university as evidence of its claim. Rahul…sent a notice to the newspaper….With the notice was a letter issued by Cambridge University…in which its vice chancellor…clarified that Rahul was a student at Trinity College from October 1994 to July 1995. She also said that he was awarded MPhil in developmental studies in 1995,”  writes Ramachandran.
What comes across here is a reluctance on part of Rahul to be open about his educational qualifications. As the author explains “Rahul’s unwillingness to be open about his educational background is similar to Gandhi family’s secrecy over Sonia Gandhi’s illness. Sonia and her family have been resolute in their silence on her medical condition despite speculation…that she is suffering from some kind of cancer…It can be argued that her health is a matter of public interest given that she is the de factor head of the Congress-led coalition government…In the same way Rahul Gandhi’s educational qualifications are of the importance to the public at large as he is perceived to be a future prime ministerial candidate of the Congress and is a Member of Parliament.”
After Cambridge, Rahul Gandhi worked for three years with consulting firm Monitor in London. Strategy guru Michael Porter was one of the co-founders of the firm. Rahul was with Monitor from June 1996 to early March 1999. As Ramachandran writes “According to sources, who have known Rahul from his time at Monitor, there were no problems with his performance at the firm. He worked there under an assumed name and his colleagues did not know of his real identity, said a Monitor employee who was at the firm around the same time as Rahul. ‘His looks gave it away to those of us who knew who he could be,’ the source said.” But beyond this nothing is known about his key result areas or the sectors Rahul specialised in during his time at Monitor.
After quitting Monitor, Rahul came back to India to help his mother Sonia with the 1999 general election campaign. Once the elections were over Rahul disappeared from the political firmament. “There is no exact information about any other job Rahul might have taken up in the intervening years after he left Monitor in March 1999 and returned to India for good in late 2002,” writes Ramachandran.
During the time Rahul spent at London the media also discovered his girl friend Veronique (though they kept calling her Juanita). He was spotted with her watching an India-England cricket match at Edgbaston and holidaying with her in the Andamans at the end of 1999, and again in Kerala and Lakshdweep in 2003, for a year end family vacation.
Rahul finally cleared the mystery himself in an interview to Vrinda Gopinath of the The Indian Express during the run up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. As Ramachandran writes “’My girlfriend’s name is Veronique not Juanita…she is Spainish and not Venezuelan or Columbian. She is an architect not a waitress, thought I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. She is also my best friend,’ he told her…After he won from Amethi, he held a rare informal interaction with journalists in his constituency. They asked about his girlfriend’s nationality to which he replied she had been living in Venezuela for a long time although her parents were Spanish. He also said that he was not planning on getting married anytime soon.” Nothing has been heard of Veronique since 2004.
His years in consulting seem to have had a great impact on Rahul and since coming back to India in late 2002, Rahul has been trying to apply The Toyota Way on the functioning of the Congress party. The Toyota way is a series of best practices used by the Toyota Motor Company of Japan. As Ramachandran explains “The Toyota Way spoke of making decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options and then implementing decisions rapidly…The consensus process, though time-consuming, helps broaden the search for solutions and once a decision is made, the stage is set for rapid implementation.”
Such strategic ideas are being used for the revamp and promotion of internal democracy within the Indian Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India. Processes are being built to ensure ending the role of family connections in appointments and promotions in the two organisations.
But the big question on everybody’s lips has been when will Rahul Gandhi join the government? In a controversial interview to the Tehalka magazine in September 2005, Rahul Gandhi is reported to have said that he could have become the Prime Minister at twenty-five. Abhishek Manu Singhvi the then Congress spokesperson later specifically mentioned that Rahul wanted to state that he had not said ‘I could have been prime minister at the age of twenty-five if I wanted to’. Rahul hasn’t given any interview since then.
On another occasion Rahul said that “Please do not take it as any kind of arrogance, but having seen enough prime ministers in the family…it is not such a big deal. In fact, I often wonder why should you need a post to serve the nation”.
Rumors of Rahul Gandhi joining the cabinet in the next reshuffle have been doing the rounds lately. But as and when that happens Rahul Gandhi will have to let go of what seems like an unwillingness to be open.
People will analyse what he says. He may still not give interviews but as a minister he will surely have to make speeches, address meetings etc. His decisions will be closely watched. And the files he signs on will be open to RTI filings. In short, the mystery surrounding him will come down.
Things as they are currently will have to change. As Ramachandran puts it “In situations where he is required to speak, whether it is the Parliament or his elections speeches, he is uncomfortable. He is only now beginning to find his public speaking voice. For the most part, however, he has tended to avoid speaking in the public or to the press on issues. He comes across as a politician who is reluctant to share his views on issues of national importance or worse as someone who does not have views at all.”
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on Ocotber 19,2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])

Will Vadragate turn out to be Sonia’s Bofors?

Vivek Kaul
Roti tawa par, janta party hawa main” was one of the slogans going around in the Lok Sabha elections that happened after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Riding on the honest image of Rajiv Gandhi (Indira’s son and a former Indian Airlines pilot) and a sympathy wave due to the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, the Congress party won more than 400 seats in the lower house of Indian parliament.
This was an unprecedented majority for the Congress party, something it had not managed to achieve even under the leadership of Jawahar Lal Nehru, Rajiv’s grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister. Neither had it managed such a huge mandate from the people of India under the leadership of Indira Gandhi.
But Rajiv would soon squander away these gains. As Aarthi Ramachandran writes in Decoding Rahul Gandhi “The Rajiv Gandhi government was bogged down by allegations of kickbacks to the tune of Rs 64 crore paid to middlemen in the purchase of Swedish Bofors guns. The government’s ‘stonewalling’ of demands to bring guilty to book in the Bofors case and other corruption scandals destroyed Rajiv’s image as Mr Clean. Ramchandra Guha in India After Gandhi says the ‘stonewalling prompted speculation that the middlemen were somehow linked to the prime minister himself’.”
The impact of this on the Congress party was huge. It lost the 1989 election to an alliance of Janata Dal and the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). Rajiv Gandhi had to become the leader of the opposition. A party which had more than three fourths of the seats in the Lok Sabha was thrown out of power.
It is often said that ‘perception is reality’. Rajiv Gandhi losing the 1989 Lok Sabha election because people ‘thought’ he was involved in the Bofors scandal and may have received a part of the kickbacks. And this perception was formed after his government stonewalled all attempts of bringing the guilty to book.
A similar situation seems to be now brewing up in the Robert Vadra-DLF case. A string of lawyer ministers from the Congress have jumped into the ring in order to defend Robert Vadra and would like the world at large to believe that there is no truth in accusations being hurled at Vadra (and indirectly Sonia Gandhi) by Arvind Kejriwal and his associates.
Let us sample some of the statements that have been made by these lawyer ministers. Kapil Sibal, one the country’s top practicing lawyers before he became a full time politician and currently the Minister of Human Resource Development and Minister of Communications and Information Technology recently came to the defence of Vadra. “Allegations are happening 24×7. It is a daily phenomena just like 24×7 television news channels,” he said.
On television Vadra has been defended by Jayanthi Natrajan who other than being the Union Minister for Environment and Forests also happens to be a lawyer having got her law degree from the Madras Law College. Vadra has also been defended by Manish Tewari, a Congress spokesperson, and a lawyer. Tewari felt that prima facie the charges made by Kejriwal and company were found to be ‘untruth, innuendos and lies’.
HR Bhardwaj, currently the governor of Karnataka, and a former law minister also came to the indirect defence of Robert Vadra. “Many allegations were levelled against the Gandhi family even in the past. Indira Gandhi was also attacked. But she had a towering personality and fought back. Morarji Bhai (late Prime Minister Morarji Desai) made so many cases against her but they fell like nine pins,” he told reporters,” he recently told the media. And I thought governors were meant to be above politics and political parties.
Rashid Alvi, one of the spokespersons of the Congress Party on one occasion brushed aside the accusations hurdled at Vadra by Arvind Kejriwal and company as a “part of a well-planned conspiracy not against an individual but against the Congress and its leadership.”
On another occasion on live television he dubbed Kejriwal’s accusation as a publicity stunt and questioned the veracity of the documents put out by Kejriwal by saying “who will decide that the documents shown by Kejriwal are genuine or fake.”The website of the Parliament of India lists his profession as an advocate in the Supreme Court.
P Chidambaram, the Union Finance Minister who also happens to be a lawyer said “All I can say is at this moment these allegations pertain to transactions between two private persons or entities…. The individual (Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi) has disclosed all these transactions in his income tax and other returns, and perhaps in the returns of the company.”
Veerapa Moily, another Lawyer and who is  the Union Minister for Corporate Affairs as well as Power, jumped to Vadra’s defence by saying “ I have already verified these allegations and no wrongdoings have been found in any of the six Robert Vadra-owned companies.”
What is surprising is that so many Congress lawyers have jumped to the defence of a “supposedly” private individual, Robert Vadra, and ruled out any wrong doing on the part of Sonia Gandhi’s son in law. The only thing that this ‘stonewalling’ has done is that it has built the perception among people that something must be wrong otherwise why are so many lawyer ministers and Congressmen jumping to Vadra’s defence.
In some cases the defence has looked very shaky. Let’s look at Alvi’s insinuation that the documents might be fake. And this comes from a man whose profession is listed as a Supreme Court lawyer. It is very easy to download balance sheets of even unlisted companies these days. This writer spent the whole of last week doing that by logging on to www.mca.gov.in and paying a Rs 50 charge for every Vadra company for which details were needed. So all one needs to know is the name of the company and it’s possible to get the details of that company. And in Vadra’s case it was pretty well known that he operated through Sky Light Hospitality Private Ltd a company in which he owned 99.8%.
Also Alvi should remember that Kejriwal is being advised by Shanti and Prashant Bhushan, two of the best lawyers in the country. Shanti Bhushan was even the law minister of the country at a certain point of time. Other than this Kejriwal himself must understand a thing or two about balance sheets having been an Indian Revenue Service officer till a few years back. He is also an IIT Kharagpur passout from the pre coaching schools era and that definitely means he is smart. And more than anything else why would anyone who is raising a serious banner of revolt against the incumbent government choose to do so on “fake” documents?
P Chidambaram wanted us to believe that the dealings were between a private company and a private individual. If that is the case why are so many lawyer ministers coming to the defence of Vadra?
Veerapa Moily jumped to Vadra’s defence by saying that there was nothing wrong in any of Vadra’s six companies. If he had read through the memorandum of association of Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality carefully enough he would have realised that the company claims that it will carry out business as hotels, restaurants, lodges, ice-cream merchants, sweet meat merchants, milk manufactures, bakers, wine and spirit merchants etc.
But instead of doing all that Sky Light Hospitality primarily seems to be in the business of real estate having accumulated a slew of properties on the basis of a so called Rs 50 crore advance it got from a plot of land from DLF. As has been repeatedly pointed out Firstpost and other places in the media the dealings between DLF and Vadra appear murky. (You can read about it completely here, here and here). Sky Light Hospitality owns a 50% stake in Saket Courtyard Hospitality Ltd through which it runs one hotel in Saket, New Delhi, in parternship with DLF.
Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality bought 3.5acres of land sometime in 2008-2009 (period between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009) at Rs 15.38 crore. In the same period DLF bought this land from Vadra for Rs 58 crore. The question is how did the value of the land go up nearly 3.7 times in such a short period of time?
Against this sale DLF gave Vadra an advance of Rs 50 crore. An advance is typically given for the short term and needs to be returned within a year. But this advance was sitting on Vadra’s balance sheet even as on March 31, 2011. So the advance given by DLF to Vadra was with Vadra for a period of greater than two years. This doesn’t sound like an advance at all. It seems more like an interest free loan being passed off as an advance.
DLF also said in its 6 October statement that “we wish to categorically state that DLF has given no unsecured loans to Mr Vadra or any of his companies.” The balance-sheet (dated 31 March 2010) of Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd, another company owned by Vadra, shows a clear entry of Rs 5 crore as a loan from DLF.
Vadra used all these loans from Vadra to go on a property buying spree. Estimates made now suggest that the value of this property now runs into hundreds of crores. He also benefitted from parking this largely interest free money in fixed deposits and earning an interest from them.
Congress Party’s over defence of Vadra has not helped it at all. It has built the perception among people that there must be some hanky panky involved in the entire business. That being the case no other response could have been expected from a party that doesn’t really stand for anything except the Nehru-Gandhi family. Kejriwal has hit the Congress party where it hurts the most.
As Ramachandran writes “the Nehru-Gandhi family remained relevant within the Congress. In fact, it became more powerful as it was only the centre around which the entire Congress edifice could hold together. It was now an amalgam of pressure groups which were interested in power, and their one-way ticket to it was through proximity to the Nehru-Gandhi family.”
And it’s in times like these Congress leaders have to go through their agni parkiskha and show their loyalty to the Nehru Gandhi family. That’s precisely what they are doing. Their reactions are a clear case of Catch 22. They are dammed if they try to come to the defence of Vadra and they are dammed if they don’t. However, in the process Vadragate may turn out to be Sonia Gandhi’s Bofors.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on October 16, 2012. http://www.firstpost.com/india/will-vadragate-turn-out-to-be-sonias-bofors-492019.html
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])