The fact that India is demanding an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable generosity of DLF Ltd towards Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra is a sign of a maturing democracy.
On Friday, India Against Corruption leaders Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan had one of their finest moments when they catapulted Vadra to the headlines and made his DLF deal the most pressing news agenda of the day. Eighteen months ago, when The Economic Timesbroke this story, neither the media nor the principal opposition party, the BJP, took that story forward. That still-born fallout has been made good by Team Kejriwal today with every channel and newspaper hitting the headlines with the Vadra case.
On Friday night, every single TV debate was anchored on this issue. It was amusing to see how senior Congressman and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid left the debate midway on CNN-IBN the moment he was cornered by Kejriwal. Khurshid was visibly livid when he was asked by Kejriwal to function as the country’s law minister and not one of the Congress party.
This time round, the BJP has joined in the issue. The nation now wants to know what extraordinary services did Vadra offer to DLF so as to deserve an unsecured, interest-free loan of Rs 65 crore, heavily discounted flats currently valued at Rs 100 crore and 50 percent shares in Delhi’s Hilton Hotel, collectively propelling his assets from Rs 50 lakh to more than Rs 300 crore in just three years.
Was this just a "friendly" gesture, as Vadra has claimed? Or did the Congress governments in Rajasthan, Haryana and Delhi favour DLF in exchange, as Team Kejriwal has alleged? The sooner Vadra and DLF provide a satisfactory explanation, the better it will be for them and the Congress party because this issue could otherwise bloat and hurt the Congress in the run-up to the 2014 general elections.
Thanks to the strong and unpredictable winds of the anti-corruption movement and court proceedings in the country, people are beginning to shed their feudalistic mindsets - programmed so deeply into the Indian psyche. They are beginning to raise questions about the sons, daughters and sons-in-laws of Indian politicians.
Of course, questions have been raised in the past, generating considerable heat and dust - as in the case with former prime minister and BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and his alleged deal with the Iraqi government. However, few sons-in-law of politicians have been exposed as thoroughly as the senior Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi’s son-in-law Girish Vyas. Vyas and his father-in-law had to pay a heavy price after a Public Interest Litigation established that Joshi as chief minister and minister for urban development in Maharashtra during 1995-99 had shown undue favours towards a construction firm headed by Vyas.
Joshi was held guilty by the high court of complicity in de-reserving prime real estate in Pune meant for a civic school. What came up on that plot was a pricey 11-storey residential complex constructed by Vyas. In an effort to clear his name, Joshi fought the case till the Supreme Court; but his plea was turned down.
His political career suffered a body blow and he has never recovered fully since then. He not only lost his chief ministership but has also lost out on the vice-presidentship which he so ardently desired, after having become the Lok Sabha speaker.
The most lucrative business in India is the business of politics. Once you are successful in the business of politics, there’s virtually no looking back and it’s not just your son or daughter who benefits but the entire clan. Take the case of the senior NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Chhagan Bhujbal. He is embroiled in allegations of undue favours done to his relatives while awarding contracts for the reconstruction and renovation of Maharashtra Sadan in New Delhi.
In the south, some prominent members of the DMK clan, led by former chief minister M Karunanidhi, are embroiled in the 2G spectrum and other scams. In Andhra Pradesh, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, son of late Congress Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, has been denied bail by the Supreme Court in a disproportionate assets case. What about the allegations of disproportionate assets against Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha and her former aide Sasikala?
In the rural hinterland of many Indian states, the country has been carved out into principalities - territories controlled by politicians and their families, no questions asked. Thus in Maharashtra, Baramati has become the principality of the Sharad Pawar clan. His is amongst the most powerful political families in the country with the daughter as an MP and a nephew as a benched deputy CM. A string of many other nephews has also prospered astronomically, spilling out to promoting businesses in Pune and beyond. On 4 November 2011, DNA reported how the Karnataka CID had chargesheeted Jayant Pawar, nephew of Sharad Pawar, for an alleged mining scam by his Pune-based firm, Metachem Manufacturing Pvt Ltd.
Sharad Pawar's low-profile son-in-law Sadanand Sule surfaces in the news from time to time, as he did when his shareholdings in the controversial Lavasa Corporation and the Panchshil Realty-DB Realty connections came to light in Pune. Both these cases are well-documented by the media. Is it merely coincidental that most politicians and their relatives in India are embroiled in scams relating to real estate? This is a sector that needs an urgent clean-up.
There is absolutely nothing wrong if a politician’s son or daughter becomes a politician - as with people in other professions and vocations. This happens routinely in many families and not just business houses when a child wants to step into the illustrious shoes of his father or mother. What is objectionable is the undue favours and benefits bestowed on businesses run by the family members of politicians at the cost of public welfare and the public exchequer. This is where the people need to sit up, take note and demand an explanation.
India Against Corruption leaders Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan have done precisely that. Robert Vadra stands enveloped in the thick clouds of suspicion till he clears his name in the DLF deal.
Checking and combating corruption in India will become easier as India succeeds in professionalising her democracy. For decades together, politicians and their families have blatantly abused power in India. The time has come to seek explanations from all the Robert Vadras around us. This task can be done by anyone and everyone and the media won’t be left behind in its search for a juicy story.