The Congress has played out its hand with Robert Vadra and former Haryana Chief Minister B. S Hooda using the impending Justice SN Dhingra Commission report to present themselves and the Congress Party, as victims of persecution and vendetta.
Just hours before the scheduled submission of the Justice SN Dhingra Commission report to the Haryana government, Hooda, Vadra and the Congress party launched a three-pronged attack on the state government, which includes playing political victim, alleging the constitution of the Commission to be illegal (on grounds that it was done without Cabinet approval), and going so far as to accuse Justice Dhingra himself of seeking and becoming a beneficiary of the states' largesse.
The strategy gives one a dark sense of deja vu - given its unimaginatively striking similarity with tactics earlier used by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to subvert the Justice J.C. Shah Commission which was appointed by the government in 1977 to inquire into the excesses committed during the Emergency (1975-77).
Like Hooda, Indira Gandhi disputed the legality of the Commission and refused to cooperate during the deposition. Like Hooda and Vadra, she used the Shah Commission to present herself and her son Sanjay Gandhi as victims of political persecution.
However, Justice Dhingra has perhaps unwittingly spoilt the Congress’ game. Late on Thursday, 30 June 2016, he quite unexpectedly requested Chief Minister M L Khattar for an extension of six weeks to submit his report, ostensibly because he needed to examine a surprise gift of a bunch of sale deeds from an anonymous individual about benami transactions of beneficiaries of Hooda’s licensing policies.
This sounds more and more ominous for the Congress Party and may make them more desperate in the run up to the submission of the report.
The Dhingra Commission report, when submitted, will contain detailed findings on Hooda’s role in the illegal grants of licences to hundreds of private companies, including the Robert Vadra case, involving Vadra’s company Skylight Hospitality and real estate major, DLF.
Let’s take up the three allegations thrown at the government and Justice Dhingra one by one and examine them against official documents that knock the bottom off this vicious, if wasted, pre-emptive strike by the Congress.
Charge 1 - Dhingra Commission illegal
The Dhingra Commission was constituted on 14 May, 2015 under Section 3 of The Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952.
Over a year later, on Wednesday, 29 June, 2016, the eve of the submission of its report, Hooda suddenly woke up to write a letter to Governor Kaptan Singh Solanki, accusing the constitution of the Committee itself to be illegal, on grounds that Cabinet approval had not been obtained for it.
He further alleged that the terms of reference were changed midway to target him and other Congress ministers and officers who served under him between 2004-14.
Unfortunately for Hooda, its been almost too easy to call his bluff, since his allegation itself is ludicrously false.
According to state government sources, the Terms of Reference of the Dhingra Committee were issued on 29 May, 2015 and approved by the Cabinet on 1 June, 2015. The notification was later amended on 14 August, 2015 to extend the scope of the commission to four villages including Shikohpur, Sihi, Kherki Daula and Sikanderpur Badha which brought sector 78 to 86 of Gurgaon under its ambit.
Detailed justification for this has also been provided. Since not a single license application mentions the sector, but names these four villages, the Commission felt the notification, too needs to be amended to include these villages as the areas of the licences to be considered. It was also “modified in respect of nature of license as even in residential licences, commercial licences were granted. Therefore the notification should be in respect of licences granted in above four villages whether residential, commercial or composite”.
This amended notification, too, was cleared by the Cabinet - on the very same day, but only after getting the changes first approved by the Advocate General, Haryana and vetted by the Legal Remembrance department.
Given the expansion of the brief, the Haryana government on 7 December, 2015 further extended the term of Justice S N Dhingra Commission for six months till June 30, 2016.
The Commissions of Enquiry Act 1952, shows that the government is perfectly within its right to do all of this, especially given the seriousness of the charges against Hooda and Vadra and its desire to introduce “remedial measures for systemic improvement, with a view to preventing loss of revenue to the public exchequer and undue private enrichment in future”.
According to the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1952, “Section 3. Appointment of Commission. (1) The appropriate government may, if it is of opinion that it is necessary so to do, …. appoint a Commission of Inquiry for the purpose of making an inquiry into any definite matter of public importance and performing such functions and within such time as may be specified in the notification, and the Commission so appointed shall make the inquiry and perform the functions accordingly”.
It’s too bad that Hooda, after 10 years of rule as CM in Haryana still doesn't know that the law states that none of what he has alleged is illegal.
While it may not augur well for Hooda, what the present state government is doing is an essential and appropriate exercise towards eventually “taking corrective action” and meeting “the ends of justice”.
Charge 2 - Vadra victim of political vendetta
On Friday, 30 June, 2016, Robert Vadra, chose to play up the victim card, his only defence since he first came into the public eye for his questionable business/land dealings, by posting on Facebook:
"Almost a decade of governments false and baseless accusations on me! They cannot prove anything without proof, and there is nothing there to prove… I will always be used for political gains, I know ... But I will walk with my head held high, as in time and with the truth which will conquer incorrect perceptions, that are created about me."
Vadra playing victim is grossly unfair - considering his over-the-top lifestyle and regular release of videos and photos of himself to the media, building his body in one five-star gym or the other. Vadra has not been made to take even a single break from his 7-star schedule to depose before the Dhingra Commission - a stark contrast to the frequent day-long interrogations inflicted on Sanjay Gandhi - also a civilian/private individual like Vadra - by the Shah Commission in the 70’s.
In any event, Vadra would have been better advised to wait for the release of the Dhingra Commission report before deciding it had no proof. Everyone knows that government records do not lie and most of the records in Vadra’s particular case are not just incriminating but already in the public domain.
Charge 3 - Justice Dhingra is compromised
The third strategy, to muddy the waters by sullying the reputation of Justice Dhingra himself, has been the most vicious and laughable at the same time.
Hooda has alleged out-of-turn favours/benevolence extended by the Haryana government towards a Gurgaon-based charitable trust headed by retired Justice Dhingra after he was appointed head of the Commission.
Take a quick look at this document before we proceed to examine the Congress party’s charge that Justice Dhingra has been bribed by the government to tailor his findings to fix Vadra and Hooda:
This document confirms that Justice Dhingra did indeed make a request to the deputy Commissioner, Gurgaon, to construct a paver-blocks road in place of a kachcha road leading to a school for the underprivileged children. The school is run by a trust headed by Justice Dhingra. But it doesn’t show any illegality or impropriety in the grant of this permission. While Rs 95,40,000 was sanctioned for the construction of the road, Rs 47,70,000 has been sanctioned so far.
It is the government’s mandate to build roads and launch welfare schemes and developmental projects and no rules were bent in this case. Further, Justice Dhingra is not the beneficiary of the money released by the state government to build the road. If this is bribe, one wishes more bribes are given and taken!
The Congress spin-machine, it seems, will drag even a school for the underprivileged into the debate, if it helps to undermine the judge and the commission and thus helps Robert Vadra’s case. Brace for more of this in the weeks to come when the contents of the report become public.
This story was updated to include images of documentary evidence