CWG, 2G, Coalgate and now Vadragate; Will it be Sonia’s Bofors?
Congress party’s flip-flop on Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, has damaged the party and the dynasty’s credibility to no end. Initially the party’s chief spokesperson declined to comment on the allegations against Vadra saying it was a matter between two private citizens and business houses and the party had nothing to do with it. Within hours, the party reacted ferociously after an intervention from 10 Janpath.
A battery of Union Ministers and party spokespersons launched an offensive against those questioning Vadara’s business deals saying it was an attack on the party and a conspiracy to defame Sonia Gandhi. A few days later, there was another U turn. Sandeep Dikshit, MP and Congress spokesman, distanced the party from Vadra saying he is a private individual who is free to do his business the way he likes. Hardly a day later, several party leaders lined up to question the charge that Haryana Government had transferred a senior IAS officer who had dared to order a probe into Vadra’s land deals with major realtor DLF. They have yet again identified the dynasty’s son-in-law with the ruling party. It is for the Congress to decide whether or not it is prepared to sink with the controversial businessman who somehow managed to get married into the first family. The fact remains that there are serious and credible allegations against Vadra about his dubious deals with realty major DLF that enabled him to amass huge wealth in a short span of time apparently without undertaking any business activity barring favours he received from DLF and the Haryana Government.
Documents available in public domain show that DLF gave Skylight Hospitality – Robert Vadra and his mother are the only directors of the company – unsecured interest-free loan of Rs 65 crore and that money was used as seed money for Vadra’s property acquisitions. Interestingly, DLF was at that point of time in deep financial trouble and had taken massive loans from banks @ 15 per cent per annum interest. Intriguingly, DLF Universal – a public limited company – was charitable towards a business company that had not much to show for its assets. The only plausible consideration was that Vadra belonged to the most powerful family of India. The quid pro quo was that the Congress Governments of Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi showered favours on the DLF for the services rendered by the latter to Vadra’s companies. Facts speak for themselves. Skylight Hospitality purchased 3.5 acres in Manesar Shikhopur in Haryana from DLF Universal for Rs 7.5 crore in February 2008. Eyebrows were raised when mutation was done within 24 hours though the process normally takes three to four months. More surprisingly, the Haryana Government acted fast and barely a month after the land was purchased by Vadra’s company, the latter was granted permission to change land use and develop a housing project on most of the land. With this one stroke, the price of the land escalated to Rs 58 crore for which DLF bought back the land with the licence to develop a housing project on it within three months. Was it business acumen – that wife Priyanka had praised saying Vadra is not interested in politics as he was a successful businessman – or Government largess? It was obviously a crude deal. You get me a licence from the Government to develop a housing project and I will pay you the rent. It is a fit case for an independent and credible enquiry. This is one of the numerous dubious deals of Vadra and Congress Governments in Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi bending rules to shower favours on the infamous son-in-law. Constraint of space prevents one from dealing with each one of them.
A conscientious and upright officer, Ashok Khemka, the then Director General of Land Consolidation and IG of Registration on October 8 commissioned an enquiry into all land deals by Vadra in Haryana and mandated that it should be completed by October 25. Three days later at 10.30 p.m. he was suddenly served with transfer orders though he had not completed even half of the mandated two year term. He wrote to the Chief Secretary complaining against the transfer but before relinquishing his charge, he cancelled the mutation of the controversial land deal of 3.5 acre in favour of DLF saying guidelines were violated in the permission to develop a housing complex and the permission granted to Vadra to sell back the land with licence to develop a housing complex to DLF. He thus effectively ensured that DLF can no longer be considered the owner of the property. There was a huge public outcry against the sudden transfer of the whistle blower – Government suspects that Khemka was the one who had leaked information about the shady deals to the civil society activists – and rumours of disciplinary action against him, the State Government appointed a three-man committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary to go into the matter and report back to the Chief Secretary.
Haryana Government and Congress leaders defending its action claimed that Khemka issued these orders after he was transferred. That this is a lie floated to side-track the real issue is proved to the hilt by official records. Haryana Consolidation Department records show that it was on October 8 – three days before Khemka was transferred – that he had sought the records of the sale deeds and mutation records of Shikhopur deal during a departmental enquiry in the presence of revenue officials. He had also commissioned district heads of Gurgaon, Faridabad, Palwal and Mewat to provide to him information about all land deals of Vadra. He received the records of Shikhopur deal on 11th. The same evening he was transferred. Ashok Khemka’s case is that since his appeal against his sudden transfer was pending with the Chief Secretary and his successor didn’t arrive, he continued to work as DG and issued relevant orders before relinquishing his office. Haryana Chief Minister BS Hooda has claimed that the officer was transferred for administrative reasons and that transferring officers was Government’s prerogative. BJP, on the other hand, has criticised State Government’s action against Khemka as a reflection of its “Emergency mind-set” and observed that the State Government had sent out a message that anybody questioning the first family wouldn’t be spared. Khemka has, as of now, a lot of public sympathy but may be in trouble for violating IAS service rules by appearing in televised interviews criticising his sudden transfer.
Robert Vadra’s dubious deals are now talk of the town. Any attempt to obfuscate the issue by raising irrelevant issues will boomerang on the Government and the Congress party and further strengthen the perception that the dynasty is looting the country. SMS joke doing the rounds – Rahul to Sonia, “Mummy first CWG, then 2G, then Coal G and now Jija-G”- reflects the public perception that Congress is a thoroughly corrupt and visionless party interested only to serve not the people but the dynasty. Will Vadra be Sonia Gandhi’s Bofors?