14 OCT, 2012, 06.13AM IST,
Tactical blunders by Congress ministers and political damage
By Arati R Jerath
History has little comfort to offer the Congress as it hunkers down to assess the political damage from theRobert Vadra story. Past scandals involving members of the first family have led to devastating electoral losses and a split in the ranks. There’s nothing to suggest that things will be different this time, despite loud protestations that Vadra is a private citizen.
It’s too late now for the Congress to distance itself. By fanning out its ministers across television channels to defend him, the party ended up owning Vadra. Emotional statements like law minister Salman Khurshid’s merely confirmed the image.
Khurshid swore to lay down his life for the family. When it realised the political implications of this high-pitched defence, the Congress quickly withdrew the ministers. But the damage was done. In the public mind, the equation was set: Vadra = Gandhi family = Congress.
Land Deal Redux
Something happens to the Congress when a member of the family is attacked. It loses its sense of balance and political judgement. Rewind to the 1970s when Sanjay Gandhi was in the thick of controversy over his MarutiBSE 0.14 % factory. The ironies are impossible to ignore. Then too, a tract of land in Haryana was involved.
Questions were raised about the manner in which Sanjay was allotted 330 acres of land by the then Congress government in Haryana and the substantial loans he received from nationalised banks for a car project that didn’t produce a single vehicle in his lifetime.
Here’s another irony. There was a Sonia link also. She was appointed managing director of Maruti in 1973 at a monthly salary of Rs 2,000. A commission of inquiry headed by Justice AC Gupta was to observe in its 1978 report that it was “surprising that Shrimati Sonia Gandhi who did not have any technical qualification should be appointed managing director of a technical company”.
We all know what happened as the controversy swirled and Indira Gandhi came under attack on a variety of fronts, including corruption and price rise, from the “mango people” hero of that era, Jayaprakash Narayan. She declared Emergency and unleashed a reign of terror that subsequently led to a terrible electoral defeat after senior leaders of her party (notably Jagjivan Ram and HN Bahuguna) broke away to join the Janata Party.
Indira Gandhi personally lost for the first time in Rae Bareli and a year after that, the Congress split again with YB Chavan (and Sharad Pawar) raising the banner of revolt.
Bofors and After
Now fast forward to 1987, when the Bofors scandal broke on Swedish Radio and the needle of suspicion pointed to Rajiv Gandhi through Italian businessman and family friend Ottavio Quattrocchi. Rattled by the allegations and a mounting Opposition campaign for his resignation, Rajiv flip-flopped his way through a series of denials that made him look guilty, although his guilt was never conclusively established.