You've got to give it to Sonia Gandhi these days. In spite of being continuously jabbed with electoral defeats, punched with charges and allegations, she is keeping her chin high, gaze firmly locked with the opponent's eyes. On being hit she is bouncing back, not willing to retreat into her corner or throw in the towel.
Perhaps it is just bravado, the hubris of the once mighty in free fall, even a facade to keep the party morale high. Maybe she derives her strength from something contemporary India is not willing to credit her much with—moral strength. Or, since it is well-established that leaders try to cast themselves into the mould of their believers, Sonia has taken Jyotiraditya Scindia's filmi hyperbole of being a sherni literally.
Whatever be the reason, Sonia is roaring again, daring her opponents to a fight. On Tuesday, when the opposition accused her son-in-law Robert Vadra, the family's perpetual Achilles' heel with a billion tender points, of buying a benami property in London, Sonia hit back: "Kabhi aisa nahi dekha...ek pradhan mantri hain..shahenshah nahi. (He is a PM, not an emperor.) .
"Roz...roz ye Congress-mukt Bharat ke liye naya mudda uthate hain. Roz galat iljaam lagate hain. Agar kuch galat hai to bina bhed bhaav jaanch karo. Doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani karo," Sonia dared the government.
Vadra is accused of buying a benami property through an arms dealer in London. According to NDTV, last month, enforcement agencies raided 18 premises owned by Sanjay Bhandari, an arms dealer. Two preliminary reports prepared after the raids state that Vadra and his executive assistant sent several emails discussing payments and renovations for a London home (12 Ellerton House, Bryanston Square) bought for 19 lakh GBP (Rs. 19 crores) in October 2009 and sold in June 2010.
Vadra's lawyers have denied the charge. They claim their client does not own directly or indirectly the aforementioned house in London. They said Vadra and his assistant have not entered into any transaction of a financial nature with Bhandari.
Sonia's aggression isn't recent. She had looked the government in the eye when BJP had alleged her involvement in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, asking, in what has now become her trademark response, to launch a probe instead of just blackmailing.
Before that, when she was summoned to court in connection with the National Herald case, Sonia had dug up trenches and gathered her army of loyalists and darbaris in Delhi in a show of defiance and preparedness for battle.
Notice the contrast. For the past few days, Rahul Gandhi has completely been on silent mode. In fact, he has not even been visible. Some ascribe it to ill-health--a suspected bout of Chikungunya. Others think it is part of a strategy: Unlike the son, the mother is still taken seriously by politicians and opponents, her words still matter to workers and loyalists. So, Sonia has decided to become the face of the Congress fightback.
Sonia is emboldened also by the BJP's shoot-and-scoot tactics on many of the allegations against the family, the propensity of its leaders to just spray verbal darts in every direction, hoping that something might hit.
Consider the allegations against Vadra. Whatever be the truth in the allegation, it is an established fact that tracking down benami transactions, if they exist, is impossible. Hundreds of politicians in India use bogus companies, relatives and middlemen to gather wealth, own real estate. Ever heard of a big fish being caught?
Then there are Gandhi-haters like Subramanian Swamy who repeatedly makes the mistake of diluting the seriousness of an issue with infantile trivialisation.
Swamy's latest allegation against Vadra is a hoot. He claims he's trying for British citizenship. "... I heard he wants to take British citizenship by paying a hefty amount which enables foreigners who invest in Britain to get fast-track citizenship," Swamy told India Today magazine during his stopover at Beijing during the Kailash-Mansarovar yatra.
Swamy's allegation that Vadra is trying to fast-track British citizenship by investing in London is downright fallacious. If Vadra has indeed made a benami investment, there is no way he seek citizenship on the basis of it. It is a no-brainer that he would have to invest in his own name, from his own account to get any purported preference to applicants for citizenship.
Swamy's shooting from the lip in all directions has become symptomatic of the BJP's strategy against the Gandhi-Nehru-Vadras. Instead of going through the grind of hard-nosed investigation, prosecution and follow-up action, the BJP seems to be believing that it can successfully keep the dynasty on the backfoot just by firing verbal arrows.
After raising a din on the AgustaWestland deal, claiming it had enough evidence to nail Sonia, the BJP has suddenly clammed up. So far there has been no evidence to conclusively establish any wrong-doing by the Congress president. For some curious reason, the Agusta deal has completely disappeared from the political discourse after the recent round of Assembly elections in five states.
The heat is off also on the National Herald case, where the action seems to have died down once the Gandhis were granted bail and exempted from personal appearance. May be the pot will start boiling just around the time electioneering in Uttar Pradesh picks up in 2017.
Even more curious is the case of Vadra. After creating a ruckus against his land deals in Rajasthan and Haryana, the government has almost frozen in its tracks. In Rajasthan, where the BJP has had its chief minister for almost 30 months now, no action has been initiated. Only some low-level revenue department employees have been chargesheeted for registering land bought by Vadra's companies. Earlier this month, the enforcement director searched offices of some companies that bought and sold land to Vadra companies.
In December 2013, Firstpost had argued that Vadra's land deals in Rajasthan will never be probed seriously. "To those who are hoping that (CM Vasundhara) Raje will act swiftly and ultimately punish Vadra for his deals, it should be clear that the threat of an enquiry is just a political stunt. It is unlikely to lead to the son-in-law’s conviction. Vadra is likely to walk away without any damage, including financial.
But it is a stunt worth performing. In the ongoing game of politics of probe between the Congress and the BJP, Vadra could serve many other purposes."
So far, the drama is playing out to script.
Is it then a wonder that Sonia is trying to stare down the BJP?
Politics of allegations, vendetta and witch-hunts is dictated by the law of diminishing returns. The more noises the opponents make without supporting them with action, the more difficult it becomes to believe them the next time. If the cycle continues, it turns into the story of the shepherd and the wolf that never comes. And, in no time, the object of ridicule becomes a subject of sympathy.
BJP's got to be careful. It must investigate, act and prosecute. By just crying Vadra, it is making Sonia believe in the "sherni" within.
Published Date: May 31, 2016 04:01 pm | Updated Date: May 31, 2016 04:41 pm