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Why the Congress must not defend Robert Vadra

October 11, 2012 14:27 IST

Robert VadraIt is for the Congress to ensure that the revelations do not eat into its vote bank in the crucial assembly elections. And it can do that by one, instituting a transparent and credible inquiry into the allegations; two, by taking action where it is due; and three, by disassociating itself from Vadra, says Seema Mustafa.

Immediately after the press conference held by India against Corruption leaders Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal of the Nehru-Gandhi family's son in law Robert Vadra's murky real estate deals, reporters rushed to the Congress headquarters seeking a reaction. The first response was disappointing from the journalists' point of view, but wise and sober from the Congress party's point of view where Janardhan Dwivedi let it be known that the party had nothing to say on the issue, and that it was a matter between the two protagonists. In other words, it was for Vadra to defend himself.

However, within 20 minutes of this first response the Congress party changed its position. Clearly acting on the directions of Congress president and Vadra's mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi, the party came out hitting Bhushan and Kejriwal with all the clout it could muster. Ministers and senior party leaders were fielded to counter the allegations and had a hard time on news television channels defending the indefensible.

They lost their temper, they hurled counter albeit weak accusations, they spoke of conspiracies, everything but directly counter the charge that Vadra had got insecure loans from the real estate mega company DLF to buy properties at far below their market price. Bhushan and Kejriwal held their ground, maintaining that the documents that had produced constituted prima facie evidence and it was now for the government to investigate the entire matter and come to a conclusion. This, they said, was the fair and just way forward to which of course the Salman Khursheeds and Jayanti Natarajans had no answer.

For once the hysteria of television channels with their herd mentality worked to focus attention on the amazing properties that Vadra has acquired, according to India against Corruption. It is true that this story was carried in The Economic Times a year ago, but it was a stand alone story that appeared and disappeared almost immediately.

Something like the huge irrigation scam that appeared for just a morning in the newspapers and had disappeared from public view amidst reports that relevant documents have all been destroyed in a convenient fire. No one followed the Vadra story, no media house dared to but now that these have been released in a press conference they feel free to follow the story. And the story is big, in that it directly incriminates Vadra who is married to Priyanka, who is the daughter of the Congress president and one of the most powerful women of the world Sonia Gandhi.

Quick polls by newspapers showed the next morning that the mud has stuck and most of Delhi, a middle class urban city, believes that Robert Vadra needs to be investigated. Murmurs about his real estate dealings have been crowding the capital's grapevine for a long while now with comparisons (and comparisons they say are always odious) being made between him and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari.

Frivolity apart, there is enough in the documents released at the press conference for the government, Delhi or central, to institute an enquiry into the allegations. It might well be that the inquiry will find Vadra innocent, but it is the only way forward for the Congress party that at the moment seems to be floundering in a cess pool that it really needs to get out of.

A remark made by Jayanti Natarajan that the revelations coincide with the Gujarat polls is absurd. This conspiracy theory will not wash, as it is something that the Congress has been repeating over and over again on Bofors without substance. Besides the levels of corruption in polity have risen dramatically since, and the people of India are certainly not happy with it.

It is for the Congress to ensure that the revelations do not eat into its vote bank in the crucial Delhi and Gujarat assembly elections. And it can do that by one, instituting a transparent and credible inquiry into the allegations; two, by taking action where it is due; and three, by disassociating itself from Vadra who is married into the Nehru-Gandhi family and is an independent businessman, or at least that is what they say usually about him.

There is a great deal of filth lying around to be uncovered. There was a time when the media exposed this filth, but clearly the task has moved to courageous activists of the Bhushan/Kejriwal kind. And given the determination on display one can with certainty that there will be more such revelations in the days and weeks to come.

The Congress knows this as well as any other. And given the rapidity with which whistle blowers are being silenced through physical threats, it is imperative for the state to ensure the security of Bhushan and Kejriwal. 

Vadra's status needs to be defined to begin with. Khursheed was heard on television referring to him as a Congress leader. Is Vadra a leader of the Congress party? If so, in what capacity? As a son-in-law? Is he just a private citizen? Or is he a 'public servant'? Given the fact that he lives in government housing, has Z category security and avails of perks denied even to government servants, he does seem to have another status altogether? So before coming to his defence without knowing the full picture, the Congress leaders should at least clarify what his status is instead of speaking in different voices at different points in time.

And to end with a gentle reminder: there has to be a uniform law against corruption applicable to all. There cannot be different shades and different grades as decided by the Congress leadership.

Seema Mustafa