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Robert Vadra, the wrong Gandhi, and the 'Indian Rupee'

Activist Arvind Kejriwal made a splash with accusations about Robert Vadra’s real estate activities, and the astonishing speed with which the latter allegedly converted $97,000 into some $95 million. This latest juicy tidbit has pushed the other scams the country was all excited about such as the alleged money spent by Robert’s mother-in-law on her travels to and medical treatment in the US — out of the public eye.

The question is whether Kejriwal has dented the Congress further or thrown it another lifeline? Like the government's recent flurry of reforms, Kejriwal's revelations could well divert attention from Coalgate, Thoriumgate, 3G-gate, CWG-gate, and so forth. Besides, some believe that the party he floated could well be intended to fragment the opposition and anti-incumbent sentiment — even though the Congress has accused Kejriwal of the opposite — being the BJP's B-Team. Nevertheless, the information he has provided is quite interesting, and suggests an unholy nexus between Vadra and DLF, a big real estate developer.

Now Robert is an interesting person. I was startled some time ago at an Indian airport to read the posted list of people for whom normal security procedures do not apply, that is, they will not be frisked: the President, the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and about ten others in high positions. And then, oh, the only person explicitly identified by name, Robert Vadra.

I couldn’t find any rational reason for it, other than that, as First-Son-In-Law-To-The-Nation, it was only fair that Robert got some privileges. I know that in some parts of the country, sons-in-law are held in some esteem — the words mappilai  in Tamil and mappila in Malayalam come to mind.

Reuters

After all, if several hundred universities, research institutions, stadia, airports, urban renewal programs, awards, etc, are named after the Nehru Dynasty, there have to be fringe benefits for those who marry into the dynasty, too. They’d feel pretty left out, otherwise.

There is a certain sense of lèse majesté in the Indian media and among the Congress when it comes to the Dynasty: this is why there is righteous indignation about the questions raised about Sonia Gandhi’s travel expenses, and also about Robert Vadra’s millions. It is pretty much along the lines of, “how dare you plebians question your betters”? Fair enough. We plebians need to be put in our place.

Robert’s rise from obscurity to multi-millionaire status on the basis of clever real-estate transactions reminded me powerfully of what was probably the very best Indian film of the last year: the Malayalam Indian Rupee. In that film — illuminated by a bravura performance by the ailing Thilakan in one of his last roles — Prithviraj plays a Kozhikode real-estate broker, who attempts to parlay a stake of Rs 25 lakh into a profit of Rs 9 crore.

Prithviraj, who exhibits all the daring and hustle of a small-time con-man, needs to come up with Rs 1 crore in a hurry, and all he has is Rs 50 lakh borrowed from his fiancee’s brother. He turns to a desperate gamble — he goes to a counterfeiter, who will give him 2-for-1, that is Rs 1 crore in fake notes in return for Rs 50 lakh in ‘original’, that is, real notes. (This sort of deal, alas, is not uncommon in Kerala, where high-quality fake notes are in circulation in plenty, thanks to Pakistani presses.)

The usually unflappable Prithviraj loses his cool and his stiff upper lip when the police come across one of these notes. In a tense and tightly-edited sequence that reminded me of the better thrillers from Hollywood, minus the car chases and guns (think French Connection or even The Conversation) Prithviraj escapes by the skin of his teeth after the authorities have identified him.

Chastened, Prithviraj and his accomplice burn the fake notes, all Rs 1 crore of them, and he relinquishes his high-stakes game, deciding to try and earn an honest living.

There is a lesson in there somewhere for Robert Vadra.

Later, there is a scene where the Thilakan character, the inmate of the Kasturba old people’s home in Mysore, is lying in state, having died before Prithviraj could come see him one last time. The words of Vaishnava Janato waft through the air, reminding us that there once was a man named Gandhi.

I hope Robert Vadra sees this movie too, and remembers that not all Gandhis are his relatives.