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Why Sonia is no 'relative' of Robert Vadra

By N Sundaresha Subramanian
Last updated on: November 20, 2014 17:20 IST
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Indian law makes it clear that Sonia and Rahul are not related to Robert Vadra, nor is Sonia a relative of Pandit Nehru, says N Sundaresha Subramanian.

Having covered Robert Vadra’s companies and deals over the past couple of years, I have often tried to figure out what exactly his alleged crime is. On most occasions, it boiled down to the relationship between him and Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the Congress Party.

Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka is married to Vadra, making the former his mother-in-law. But is she really his ‘relative’?

Relative seems to be a very, well, relative term.

It can mean different things in different contexts. In the context of family, one can have hundreds of relatives.

For example, one can take a position that whoever attended one’s wedding is part of one’s family, therefore a relative.

I remember a Rajiv Gandhi puzzle popular in our school, of which the answer was “All Indians are my brothers and sisters.”

The Sangh parivar is fond of the Vasudeva Kutumbakam concept where the whole world is one family.

Since this was going nowhere, I thought it was better to resort to the written law of the land to determine what exactly amounts to a relative.

The Indian Companies Law defines the term. This definition is also widely quoted and used in other statutes.

According to 1956 Act , A person is a relative of the other if a) they are members of a Hindu undivided family ; or (b) they are husband and wife ; or (c) the one is related to the other in the manner indicated below:

1. Father 2. Mother (including step-mother) 3. Son (including step-son). 4. Son's wife. 5. Daughter (including step-daughter). 6. Father's father. 7. Father's mother. 8. Mother's mother. 9. Mother's father. 10. Son's son. 11. Son's wife. 12. Son's daughter. 13. Son's daughter's husband. 14. Daughter's husband. 15. Daughter's son. 16. Daughter's son's wife. 17. Daughter's daughter. 18. Daughter's husband. 19. Brother (including step-brother). 20. Brother's wife. 21. Sister (including step-sister). 22. Sister's husband.

Legal experts tell me the list initially had a list of 49 relations but items from 23 onwards was dropped by an amendment in 1965.

Thus if you look at these relations, you will find daughter’s husband figures as a relative.

Therefore Vadra is a relative of Sonia Gandhi. But, the reverse is not true because the law refuses to recognise close relations from one’s spouse’s side.

Therefore, you can see your in-laws: Father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law -- all important relatives in family context -- are not relatives at all in the context of law.
Therefore, while Sonia had a relative called Robert Vadra, Vadra does not have a relative called Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi.

Rahul, though, had a relative called Vadra, being his ‘sister’s husband’ (item no 22).

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had a relative called Sonia Gandhi, being his daughter’s son’s wife (item 16).

Almost five decades later, in 2013 when the new Companies Act came into force, the list was further shortened to 15 items.

Keeping in mind with the new world order, a gender neutral term called ‘spouse’ was included in the list, while eight people were kicked out.

These were:

1. Son’s son’s wife
2. Son’s daughter’s husband
3. Daughter’s son
4. Daughter’s son’s wife
5. Daughter’s daughter
6. Daughter’s daughter’s husband
7. Brother’s wife
8. Sister’s husband

If you apply this new definition to the Gandhi-Nehru family, Sonia is no longer a relative of Nehru because ‘daughter’s son’s wife’ has gone out.

That would be bad news for the family and party, which put up a fierce defence of their ownership of the Nehru legacy, amidst alleged attempts by the BJP-led government to hijack it.

Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi’s ‘sister’s husband’ Vadra is no longer his ‘relative’ under the 2013 Act.

The definition is significant for Vadra because his activities were conducted through entities registered under the Companies Act. While questions of the propriety and morality of his transactions still remain, for the purposes of company law, Rahul and Sonia are third parties for Vadra.

He could have appointed Rahul or Sonia as a director in companies promoted by him and would not have attracted provisions that govern transactions with a ‘relative’. India Inc has been using such non-relatives strategically for decades now.

On the other hand, had Sonia been running an establishment as a promoter, any appointment or transaction such an establishment enters into with Vadra would require approval of other shareholders.

She was controlling an establishment called Congress party, which in turn ran governments in Rajasthan and Haryana, states where her ‘relative’ was getting into deals including with these governments.

It was for her ensure that these deals were done on arms’ length basis.

She is the one answerable, no point asking Vadra.

No wonder he lost his cool recently when asked by a television journalist about his business deals. But has anyone put the mike to her?

But then, she could seek refuge in Accounting Standard 18 (AS 18). “Relative - in relation to an individual, means the 1.spouse 2.son 3.daughter 5.sister 6.father and 7.mother who may be expected to influence, or be influenced by, that individual in his/her dealings with the reporting enterprise,” AS 18 said.

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N Sundaresha Subramanian
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