Guess who’s been taking a sneak peek into Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s income tax records? Looks like it's Finance Minister P Chidambaram.
On a visit to Mumbai on Saturday, Chidambaram offered the nearest thing to a “clean chit” for Vadra, who is facing allegations that his business dealings with real estate developer DLF, in which he allegedly received some preferential treatment, were perhaps tainted by quid pro quo considerations.
Chidambaram said that the allegations levelled by anti-corruption activists Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan pertained to “transactions between two private persons or entities” and by their very nature, they could not be questioned on the basis of “some imputed or implied act of corruption,” DNA reports.
Right from the hour that Kejriwal and Bhushan went public with their charge against Vadra and DLF, this has been the Congress leadership’s unwavering line of defence: that Vadra was a private individual, and it was improper for anti-corruption activists who were preparing to launch a political career to play politics with his business dealings.
But the fallacy of that claim – that Vadra is a private citizen – stands exposed from the manner in which an entire battalion of Congress Ministers and leaders – from Salman Khurshid to Jayanthi Natarajan to Rajiv Shukla – have come rushing to the defence of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. If he were truly a “private citizen” why were ministers and party leaders queuing up to bat for Vadra?
Vadra too invokes the same ‘private citizen’ argument to suggest that his business transactions with DLF are not a matter of public scrutiny, and that in any case he had made appropriate filings with the Registrar of Companies and the income tax department. But if he is a private citizen, how does one reconcile that with his statement in Amethi during the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections last year, that he would enter politics - and that "his time would come after Rahul's and Priyanka's time"?
Curiously, Chidambaram also confirmed that “the individual” (as he referred to Vadra without naming him), had "disclosed all these transactions" in his income tax returns and other returns. That raises the question of whether and why Chidambaram (or one of his officials) had taken a peek into Vadra’s and his companies’ income tax returns – and offer what sounds suspiciously like a clean chit to Vadra.
If Vadra is a private citizen in the way that Chidambaram himself, and others, claim, under what authority did the Finance Minister make a statement on his tax returns? That authority, if anything, vests with income tax department officials, and although as Finance Minister, Chidambaram has oversight , it appears to be a disquieting exercise of his authority - if that's what he has done.
With his comments certifying the ‘cleanliness’ of Vadra’s income tax returns, Chidambaram is effectively sending out a dog whistle to income tax officials on Vadra's files. Is it Chidambaram's job to issue such a certificate? Will any lower functionary in the income tax department say anything else?
Chidambaram’s off-the-cuff comments also expose the unlikely weapons in the government’s and the Congress’ armoury if it wants to turn the heat on Kejriwal and Bhushan for daring to take on Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. We saw one instance of that last year, when the government sought to discredit Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanthi Bhushan by planting media stories about their having secured land in Noida from the Uttar Pradesh government at concessional prices. Similarly, Kiran Bedi was bad-named as someone who “fudged her travel bills” when all she was guilty of was an inept and non-transparent attempt at cross-subsiding her NGO’s services – by billing those who could afford to pay full fare for her travels and offering her services free to those who couldn’t afford to pay.
The manifest attempt at that time was to subject anti-corruption activists to the tar-and-feathers treatment and drag them into the mud, so as to inhibit them from raising the pitch in their anti-corruption campaign.
Even if Kejriwal, who was in government (and whose wife too serves in the Indian Revenue Service) has a clean record, there’s nothing to stop this government from going on a fishing expedition to dig up dirt against their family or associates.
You can be sure that if Kejriwal’s uncle’s tax return is less than perfect, or if Bhushan’s nephew has violated some building code regulation and built a balcony, this government will ferret out the information – and make a big song-and-dance of it in order to discredit Kejriwal and Bhushan. The strategy of shooting the messenger has worked admirably well for the Congress in the past.
For your own sake, Kejriwal, I hope your assorted aunts and uncles and cousins have their noses clean. When the gloves come off, as they appear to have, there’s no knowing how low the Dirty Tricks Department of this government will stoop.