Mamata's take on Robert Vadra's ED case shows Priyanka Gandhi's husband may not be political baggage for Opposition after all

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday claimed the BJP-led NDA government was "deliberately" pushing for the Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigation against businessman Robert Vadra, husband of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, ahead of the Lok Sabha election because of his proximity to the Gandhi-Nehru family.

Speaking to reporters at the state secretariat in Kolkata, she said that the Opposition will not be "scared by such tactics" and will approach the Election Commission "against such a trend" of sending notices "casually to everybody".

"We stand together. We are united. We're together. We will walk together," she asserted, in every possible variation of the sentence to emphasise on Opposition unity.

It's election season in India, which is synonymous with a season of flying accusations and charges of a myriad kinds. Even before the controversy over Mamata's tussle with the CBI — and the Central government by extension — could end, the BJP turned up the heat on Vadra — and the Congress by extension.

Robert Vadra with wife Priyanka. Reuters

File image of Robert Vadra and Priyanka Gandhi. Reuters

The ED questioned Vadra for over four hours on Wednesday in connection with an alleged case of money laundering. According to ED sources, Vadra received "kickbacks" from a petroleum and defence deal inked during the UPA regime in 2009 and used those funds to illegally purchase properties in London.

Once again, the timing of his summons by the ED is more than a little suspicious. The agency called Vadra for questioning the day Priyanka was to assume office as a Congress general secretary, days after her appointment as the party in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh was announced.

A volley of reports on the Vadra baggage Priyanka comes with followed the news of her formal entry into politics. Even ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had made it a point to include Vadra in its attacks directed at the Congress. Given that the polls this year are likely to be even more high voltage, the saffron unit using the charges against Vadra as ammo should not be surprising in the slightest. And the fact that Priyanka is directly involved in politics now only came as the cherry on the cake for the BJP.

But — and that's a big but in the current political scenario — what does it mean for the "united Opposition" the Congress has been trying to band together to take on the BJP at the Centre.

This could go two ways — the ED's (read, BJP's ) move could either bring Opposition parties together and give them another push to highlight the alleged misuse of Central investigative agencies to meet the BJP's political ends; or it could push away parties that would prefer to keep their distance from any corruption allegations and maintain a diplomatic stance of "innocent until proven guilty".

If we examine Mamata's statement, it indicates that the former is the more likely scenario. The Opposition has already been up in arms about the BJP allegedly using agencies like the ED, CBI and Income Tax Department to crack down on Opposition leaders, often timing raids by these Central bodies to suit its political agenda. As a result, Vadra could prove to serve as a uniting factor for the Opposition, whose sole aim is to see the BJP fall by any means.

While the BJP is, in all probability, going to continue to target Vadra till the ED investigation comes to a 'favourable' end, the Opposition is going to play up the "political vendetta" card.

On Wednesday, Vadra's lawyers had said he was "being subjected to a farce of criminal prosecution that actually is beset with nothing else except political vendetta". "He is being virtually subjected to unwarranted, unjustified and a malicious criminal prosecution, which, on the face of it, is completely politically motivated and is being done and carried out for reasons other than those prescribed under law," his lawyers had said.

Vadra himself has maintained innocence for years. In a Facebook post in 2016, he had said he will "always be used for political gains". "But I will walk with my head held high as in time, the truth, which will conquer incorrect perceptions created about me, (will be revealed)," he had written.

It is hard to turn a blind eye to the Opposition charge that the investigations against Vadra are not politically motivated. This is even more so as an investigation into the allegedly illegal Gurugram land deals between Vadra's Sky Light Hospitality and DLF Universal was one of the BJP's major election campaign promises in 2014.

However, the BJP may have to take a few steps back in its attempts to corner Vadra this time after Priyanka's bold move to accompany her husband to the ED office on Wednesday. By accompanying Vadra to the ED office and then heading straight to the Congress headquarters to take charge of the general secretary's office, Priyanka threw the weight of the entire Congress behind Vadra. She didn't say a word besides declaring that she "supports her family", but her message was loud and clear — the Congress, and Vadra, don't have anything to hide, and any attempts to use this ED case may backfire on the BJP.

Also, if Priyanka's message has reached leaders outside the Congress, it could bring the Opposition together.

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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 12:02:48 IST

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