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Robert Vadra land deal case: Press release from Priyanka Gandhi's office raises more questions than answers

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra thought it prudent to come out with a press release to clarify her position on a land deal in Haryana, which according to an Economic Times report was scrutinized by the Justice SN Dingra Commission, set up to probe the grant of land licences to some companies, including that of Robert Vadra, during the 10 years of Congress rule in Haryana.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with husband Robert Vadra. AFP file image

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra with husband Robert Vadra. AFP file image

Her public statement on purchase of five acres of agricultural land in the village of Amipur, Haryana, its mode of purchase and subsequent sale to the same entity from which the land was purchased at a whopping 533 percent of profit is most revealing. It also raises more questions than it answers

But her clarification suggests one thing: Priyanka’s business acumen is no less than that of her husband even as she claims she "has no relationship whatsoever with Robert Vadra’s finances”. In stark contrast to her wisdom, the vendor who first sold the five acres of land to Priyanka in 2006 for Rs 15 lakh only to buy same chunk of land back from her four years later at Rs 80 lakh, five-and-a-half times the cost, proves that he could not have a more lousy business sense.

The press release by her office says: “The source of funds for the aforesaid purchase was rental income of Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra from property inherited by her from her grandmother Smt. Indira Gandhi. The source of funds for this or any other property acquired by Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has no relationship whatsoever with Shri Robert Vadra’s finances and/or Skylight Hospitality and no relationship whatsoever with DLF.”

No questions about that. After all, she belongs to a family which has ruled India for almost 60 years. The Nehru-Gandhi family has an affluent lineage. One can thus assume that rental from property she inherited from her grandmother Indira Gandhi would be substantive.

Before talking about some other points of clarification, it would be worthwhile to note that four years prior to purchase of five acres of land in Faridabad and subsequently near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, she curtly told the then Vajpayee government through a letter on 7 May, 2002 that Rs 53,421 was "too high" an amount and "beyond her paying capacity" to pay for a sprawling 2,765 square meter colonial bungalow she occupied in Lodhi estate in the prized Lutyens' Delhi.

A generous Vajapee-led NDA government took her plea at face value and drastically slashed an already subsidised "rent" by a whopping 82 percent. It should be noted that she was given this house due to security concerns and her letter to government then prompted other such allottees to request similar reduction of rent, which were granted.

The point: Her source of income, rent from her grandmother’s inherited property, didn't pour in suddenly in 2006 and 2007—it must have been there in 2002—one can only guess whether or not the Vajpayee government was in the know regarding her substantive income.

Interestingly, during Congress rule, Priyanka acquired multiple properties (to own them or book huge profits): the Faridabad one was bought in 2006 and sold in 2010 during the Bhupinder Singh Hudda led-Congress government. In 2007, Priyanka bought a property near The Retreat, the summer holiday resort of the Indian president, and the Oberoi Group's luxury spa Wildflower Hall, when the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government was in power.

Returning to the controversy related to her Faridabad property, it is instructive to note that the vendor sold her five acres of land at exactly the price notified in the circle rates for the purposes of registration of the property – Rs 15 lakh— Rs 3 lakh per acre. Not a rupee more, or less.

Her statement says: "The prevailing Collector Rate for agricultural land cheque in Village Amipur, Tehsil Faridabad for 2006-07 and as of April 28, 2006 (the date of purchase) was Rs. Rs. 3,00,000 per acre. Smt. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra paid applicable Stamp Duty of 4% (applying to a women purchaser of rural agricultural land) amounting to Rs. 60,000 (Rupees Sixty Thousand) on the purchase price of Rs. 15,00,000.”

But same piece of land was sold to the original vendor, whose name has not been specified in her press release, at market rate. What a smart business deal.

“Priyanka Gandhi Vadra resold the said land to the original vendor pursuant to a right of first refusal on 17 February, 2010 (four years later) for a sale price of Rs. 80,00,000 entirely by cheque which is the equivalent of Rs. 16,00,000 (Rupees Sixteen Lacs) per acre and was the prevailing market rate at that time.”

The insertion of “right of first refusal” in their original sale agreement is intriguing and open to a variety of speculations.

Senior Congress leaders have jumped to her defence. But that’s understandable. Off the record, they refer to her as their trump card to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his resurgent BJP. She is the Congress' last hope of revival.

The party credited her for formulating and overseeing UP election strategy, and for stitching up an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party when hope was lost. However, after UP election results, in which the party got a measly 7 out of a total of 403 seats (less than 2 percent) in Assembly, the party stopped talking of Priyanka as a strategist and as a campaigner.

The controversial land deal will have a bearing on her image. With her political charisma already being questioned post the UP polls, Congress leaders will have a hard time making people of India believe in her and her declaration of financial independence from her husband Robert Vadra.

Updated Date: Apr 28, 2017 17:41 PM

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