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The Robert Vadra mystery: Forget property, how did he acquire Priyanka?

Each time Robert Vadra steps into the spotlight, the average mango folks can't help but wonder, "Really? She married him?"  Of all the men at all the Delhi A-list parties, Priyanka Gandhi picked this guy?

“Vadra’s sweet-heart deal with DLF raises many questions but what makes no sense whatsoever is how a petty brass trader from Moradabad, who looks more like Priyanka’s chauffer than her significant other, could patao a Nehru-Gandhi scion and marry into India’s most powerful political family. We demand that Vadra come clean on this,” thunders a fake Arvind Kejriwal in an Unreal Times spoof of the unfolding drama.

The bigger mystery, as the humour mag cheekily points out, is not how Vadra got rich, but how he got hitched. As a friend wryly observes, "It's like she married Ajay Devgn." And that's a bit unfair to Devgn.

“Businessman Robert Vadhera is unlikely to figure anywhere among the country’s 1,000 most eligible bachelors. Priyanka Gandhi's 28-year-old beau is short, fair, rather stocky and only moderately well-to-do,” begins a 1997 Outlook profile of Vadra the fiancé. The article went on to damn him with faint praise, describing him variously as “unremarkable man”; “an average student and not an outstanding sportsman”; and, most amusingly, as “a bit of a Puppy,” and not of the canine kind. According to Outlook, Robert's own friends in Moradabad were in shock: “We haven’t stopped wondering what Priyanka could possibly see in the boy. There is nothing exceptional about him or the family.” Ouch!

We will never solve the mystery behind the miracle that is Robert Vadra. But his saving virtue for the Gandhi family is clear: He makes his brother-in-law look like Albert Einstein. Reuters

In other words, he was all crass, no class, and unlike his predecessors, not even easy on the eye.

Now, the Gandhis have typically married down: Feroze was a no-name backbencher, Maneka a beauty pageant type, and Sonia will perennially remain "that Italian waitress" to her detractors. So a petty trader from Moradabad isn't exactly unprecedented. What makes Robert exceptional is that he is astoundingly, indisputably dumb. While neither the Gandhis nor their spouses have been towering intellectuals, none of them have come remotely close to matching Vadra's lack of intelligence.

The now infamous Facebook update — "Mango people in banana republic" — was not just crassly elitist but just plain stupid. It requires the complete absence of common sense. The presence of even one gray cell may have given our Robert some pause. Just maybe I shouldn't sneer at ordinary people in the midst of an unfolding corruption scandal targeting my disproportionate wealth. Just maybe it spells political suicide for my illustrious in-laws. Just maybe the media is tracking my Facebook account since my last update made headline news.

Damaadji entertained no such eminently sensible doubts, not even when deleting his FB account in a huff: "Obviously, it seems I have people on my Facebook account who do not have a sense of humour. Everything I write becomes news and further debates on television?? I have decided to delete my account."

Obviously, Robert isn't very good at comprehending the obvious.

"Nothing I say is premeditated," said Robert in a TOI interview earlier this year, or — as it turns out — remotely intelligent. Tooting his own horn, he declared, "I am very determined, be it business or my fitness. I've lost 20 kg in five years. And in this much time, if I'd wanted to, I could have become a big celebrity. It's been a fight to stay normal."

"I gave up my life for Priyanka, fighting every day to not be a celebrity," he insists again toward the end of the interview — just in case we don't quite grasp the full measure of his sacrifice. Poor Robert, condemned to fight a lifelong battle against fame, valiantly staving off even the slightest hint of imminent success for the sake of his wife.

A battle he has clearly lost. Despite his best efforts to remain an unknown loser, his many ventures have been vastly  and inexplicably profitable. Crores of rupees have wilfully slithered onto their balance sheets and into his pockets without a single sound business reason. As Mint editor R Sukumar notes:

To call the story of the growth of Vadra’s business empire... rags to riches would be stretching things a bit simply because there were no rags at its beginning. If anything, The Hindu’s description makes the business model of Vadra’s companies sound like a perpetual motion machine, with assets swelling despite no increase in business activity.

Then again, Robert's ability to acquire precious commodities has always relied on the miraculous, as Unreal Times points out: “Certainly, Vadra’s acquisition of Priyanka was disproportionate to all his known sources of talent and Vadra needs to give a full account of his courtship to the public.”

We will never solve the mystery behind the miracle that is Robert Vadra. But his saving virtue for the Gandhi family is clear: He makes his brother-in-law look like Albert Einstein.