IN India Robert Vadra is on his way to cast a dark shadow over national politics. On March 12, Parliament was rocked over the controversial and dubious land deals of Robert Vadra, son-in-law of the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi and brother-in-law of party vice president, Rahul Gandhi. After his marriage to Priyanka Gandhi, Robert has emerged as the Asif Ali Zardari of Indian politics.
Recently an investigation by a private television channel raised questions over the authenticity of Vadra’s land deals and the validity of the clean chit given to him by a three- member probe panel appointed by the Haryana government in October last year.
It was reported that between 2005 and 2006, Vadra struck four land deals with one agriculturist – Harbans Lal Pahwa – buying a total of 46 acres land in Amipur village in Faridabad district, only to sell it back to Pahwa at a premium five years later.
Vadra signed the land deals overlooking the Haryana Ceiling on Land Holdings Act, 1972, which states that one person or family can buy a maximum of 26.9 acres of agricultural land in the state. On September 8, 2005, Vadra bought 12 acres of land in Amipur village from Pahwa for over Rs 32 lakh. On January 13, 2006, he bought 19 acres from Pahwa for Rs 54 lakh. On April 14, 2006, Vadra acquired 10 more acres of land from the same land dealer for Rs 30 lakh. On April 28, 2006, Vadra’s wife Priyanka Gandhi struck a deal with Pahwa for 5 acres in Amipur for Rs 15 lakh.
As per the rule book ownership of the land beyond permissible limits rests in the hands of the state government. The surplus land has to be distributed among Dalits and the poor.
So the extra 20 acres in Vadra’s possession belonged to the state government. Vadra did not continue with the disputed ownership of the land for long and sold it back to Pahwa for Rs 3.8 crore.
The channel reports that Pahwa bought the land in three installments in 2010, bearing a loss of about Rs 2.5 crore. The transaction triggered suspicion about Pahwa’s connection with Vadra. Further investigation revealed some “curious figures” in Vadra’s balance sheets. The investigation team came across a curious figure of Rs 1.55 crore against the name of Harbans Lal Pahwa.
Documents in the possession of the channel revealed that Pahwa’s company, Carnival Intercontinental Estate Pvt Ltd, had given a loan of Rs 1. 55 crore to Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality. Pahwa also held a directorship in Vadra’s company, Real Earth, for over a year between February 2008 and March 2009.
Former director of RBI, Vipin Malik was quoted saying that “ there is more to the deals than meets the eye.” He stated: “You are buying from agriculturist and making huge surpluses for self running into crores when you don’t have your money…the money is being lent by the same person who is buying it and who is selling it back to you… so this is a clear case of fictitious and fake transactions… this is cold cash cover up.”
And in Rajasthan, India’s own Zardari escaped land ceiling act violation in Rajasthan despite purchasing land beyond the set limit. Documents uncovered by the channel showed that Vadra bought land in the Bikaner district much above the prescribed ceiling.
In fact, he is set to reap a windfall from the arid Bikaner, thanks to an amendment in the law by the Ashok Gehlot government “legalising his transactions”. The channel claimed to “specific information” about four land deals, totalling 321.78 acre, nearly double the permissible limit of 175 acres in the state. Vadra’s frontman Mahesh Nagar struck the deals on behalf of two companies – Real Earth and Blue Breeze Trading Private Limited, it was reported. Vadra owns 99 per cent equity in Real Earth with his mother Maureen owning the remaining one per cent. According to the ministry of corporate affairs website, there are only two shareholders in Blue Breeze – Vadra and his mother Maureen.
All the four deals were signed in 2009 and the land was bought in Basti Chauanan and Gajner village. One of the sellers in Bikaner, Vineet Asopa went on record saying that he “ got to know the land was being bought by Vadra during registration.” He quoted saying : “ I was surprised that my barren piece of land was being bought at a premium. I sold more than 350 bighas to Vadra.” The channel claimed to have copies of cheques issued in the name of Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd, which bear the signatures of Vadra.
These cheques appear to show that Vadra was operating through his frontman Nagar. Vadra bought more than 321 acres land between April 2009 and August 2010. In September 2010, however, the state government amended the three-decade-old law and scrapped the ceiling on land purchase.
Of course with the Congress led UPA ruling the country people do not expect any action against Vadra. He is well protected as long as the Gandhis rule. For the Congress “State government and law enforcement agencies concerned will look into the deals. He (Vadra) is not a politician… He is an individual. Why Parliament will debate this? How does it qualify to come in Parliament?”
Now one comes to the striking similarities in India and Pakistan politics. Zardari who married Benazir in 1987 (10 years before Robert’s marriage to Priyanka) he generally stayed out of his wife’s first administration, But it was alleged that he and his associates became entangled in corruption cases linked to the government. After the fall of Benazir, during the the interim government between August and October 1990, caretaker Prime Minister Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, a Bhutto rival, initiated investigations of corruption by the Bhutto administration. Jatoi accused Zardari of using his wife’s political position to charge a ten percent commission for obtaining permission to set up any project or to receive loans. He was tagged with the nickname “Mr. Ten Per cent”. He was arrested on 10 October 1990 on charges relating to kidnapping and extortion. There are no complaints of extortion or kidnapping against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. And there’s also no law in this country to take action against the VVIPs who plunder the country simply on the basis of their marriages.