Author: A Surya Prakash
It is strange that senior Congress Ministers and party leaders should have rushed head over heels to defend the controversial dealings of Robert Vadra, a private citizen. It shows the party’s sycophantic nature
Union Minister for Finance P Chidambaram has dismissed the demand for a probe into the controversial business dealings of Mr Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Ms Sonia Gandhi, who is the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance. He has emphatically declared that the transactions between two private individuals (Mr Vadra and DLF) cannot be questioned on the basis of “certain imputed or implied act of corruption”. Union Minister for Law and Justice Salman Khurshid has also dismissed the demand for an inquiry and described the allegations against Mr Vadra as “shameful”. Among others who have jumped to the defence of their party president’s son-in-law are senior Union Ministers Veerappa Moily, Ambika Soni and Jayanthi Natarajan. Some of them, like the Union Minister for Enviroment and Forests, Ms Natarajan, were vociferous. She said the accusations made by Indian Against Corruption are “shameless and below the belt” and meant to gain cheap publicity for the accusers. All of them claimed ad nauseam that Mr Vadra was an individual who had all the constitutional rights available to other citizens to launch any lawful business or trade.
Given the rich legal and political experience that most of these Ministers boast of, their decision to blindly plunge into the Vadra imbroglio seems inexplicable. By rubbishing the chargesheet against Mr Vadra within hours of the IAC Press conference, they have exposed themselves to the charge of having reacted without applying their minds to the issues raised and without examining the evidence at hand. They have also exposed themselves to the charge that they are not adhering to the oath that they took when they assumed office — that they will discharge their duties “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”. In other words, the meaning of this oath with specific reference to these Ministers in the present context is that they ought to function without fear (of Ms Gandhi), without favour (to the son-in-law of the Gandhi family) and without ill-will (towards Mr Arvind Kejriwal et al). When fellow citizens constituting the IAC raise certain issues that could attract provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act, the Congress can rubbish the allegations and even hurl counter-charges, but a Union Minister cannot betray partisanship, even if he feels that the accusations could vilify the president of his or her party. The Government is not synonymous with the party. If it was, the Constitution would never have insisted on Ministers taking such an oath before entering office.
The net result of the indiscretion of these Ministers is that they have debarred themselves from taking any decision on the allegations made or being in a supervising capacity if and when any of the allegations are probed by the Government. Since the Finance Minister, the Law Minister and the Corporate Affairs Minister have ab initio dismissed the allegations, any intra-governmental investigation carried out by one or more of these ministries or by Government departments like the Income Tax etc will have no credibility whatsoever.
One has never seen so many Ministers working in tandem to score a self-goal! Their conduct will only strengthen the demand for an independent judicial inquiry. A full-fledged probe will be necessary because of the nature of the allegations made against Mr Vadra. The first charge is that over the last four years he has gone on “a property-buying binge” and has purchased at least 31 properties, mostly in and around New Delhi, which even at the time of their purchase were worth several hundred crore rupees. The second charge is that the balance sheets and audit reports of five companies launched by him and his mother on or after November 1, 2007 had a total share capital of just Rs50 lakhs but over a three year period they acquired properties that were then worth Rs300 crore and are currently valued at Rs500 crore.
So, how did Mr Vadra and his mother manage to achieve such spectacular success in the real estate business? This leads us to the third charge, namely, that Mr Vadra got unsecured, interest-free loans totaling Rs65 crore from real estate major DLF to buy these properties, which too belonged to DLF. Even more troubling is the IAC’s assessment that this sudden acquisition of wealth of around Rs500 crore may just be “the tip of the iceberg” and that in the year 2012, Mr Vadra has already registered six new companies. It says, “It is clear that there is a lot of unaccounted black money invested in these properties of Mr Vadra. What is the source of these funds? Are illicit funds of the Congress being funneled into this property buying spree by the son-in-law of the dynasty?” These acquisitions have come to light from the documents submitted to the Registrar of Companies. This may just be “the tip of the iceberg” according to IAC which believes Mr Vadra has many other properties. IAC says that prima facie these facts show commission of offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act as well as offences under the Income Tax Act. In any case, these questions warrant a probe by an independent agency.
Both DLF and Mr Vadra have issued statements to counter these allegations. DLF has said that it never gave Mr Vadra “unsecured loans”. It only gave him “a business advance” of Rs50 crore when it decided to buy 3.5 acres of land in Gurgaon costing Rs58 crore from him. However, this has only complicates matters for Mr Vadra. Where and how did he acquire a Rs58 crore property when he had just Rs50 lakh to invest in his companies? Mr Vadra has dismissed the charges as being “utterly false, entirely baseless and defamatory”. But this will not help because fresh questions are cropping up every day. A newspaper has reported that the auditor’s report for one of Mr Vadra’s companies, which has a paid up capital of one lakh rupees, says that it secured an overdraft of Rs7.94 crore from a public sector bank in 2007-08. Such munificence and reckless deployment of public funds is unheard of, but it may explain some real estate acquisition by Mr Vadra.
More and more facts are certain to tumble out of Mr Vadra’s cupboard as we go along. Therefore, no amount of studio-hopping by Union Ministers can help this high-profile businessman. The ruling coalition can have one small window of hope to contain the political and electoral damage from this scandal if it agrees to an impartial inquiry by a member of the higher judiciary. But, if it lacks the gumption to order such a probe, it must remember that retribution often comes in the guise of a son-in-law!