Robert Vadra: Proxy Tycoon?
by Sandhya Jain on 19 Mar 2011 27 Comments
Fallout of the dwindling Dyarchy

Amidst the stench of corruption and malfeasance rising from the second political innings of the UPA coalition headed by Manmohan Singh but presided over by the Italian-born Sonia Gandhi comes a startling revelation – the unremarkable Robert Vadra, small time exporter of artificial jewellery and son-in-law of the Signora, is fast emerging as a virtual tycoon, with fingers in many industrial pies.


The revelations follow a public uproar over the outrageous loot of the exchequer in the Commonwealth Games and 2G Spectrum allotment scams, to mention only the most notorious. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his immediate family; circle of relations on both his own and his wife’s side; and personal friends, are nowhere indicted in any scandal.


The Gandhi family has been tainted with corruption and nepotism for at least four decades. Recently, the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal subtly revived the Bofors ghost by declaring that the late Win Chaddha had taken a legally banned commission on the Bofors gun deal, and hence owed the State a handsome sum as income tax dues! So while the Signora’s well-oiled protection machinery ensured that her countryman Ottavio Quattrocchi got away with the loot and that the Hinduja brothers did not suffer for their role in the affair, the ITAT decision ensured that the illegal gratification was recorded officially in the country’s legal history. It is a lesson in the limits of proxy rule.


And now, just a few weeks down the line, comes the news that Priyanka Gandhi’s fitness freak polo playing spouse is making strides in the real estate business, a sector riddled with nepotism and scandal as exemplified by the Adarsh housing scam in Maharashtra, which forced Ms Sonia Gandhi to urge Congress chief ministers to give up their discretionary powers in this area.  


It is pertinent that facts personally embarrassing to the Gandhi family are emerging on the heels of strong nudges to Dr Manmohan Singh to step down so that Rahul Gandhi, reputedly the born-to-be ruler of India, could receive on-the-job training and redeem his otherwise inglorious existence. But the Prime Minister is no pushover and during a recent interaction with select senior journalists over the Spectrum Scam, explicitly stated he had no intention of resigning (read being driven out) as he had yet to go the metaphorical miles before he could consider an exit. In other words, he would go when the government went, and not before.


That these signals have been understood can be gauged from the fact that Sonia loyalists directly and indirectly sharpened their attack on the Prime Minister immediately thereafter. Senior ministers have urged journalists to target the Prime Minister and his office for the sins of omission and commission in the Spectrum scandal. Although the exposé of the Niira Radia tapes revealed that some journalists had networked with Congress leaders close to Sonia Gandhi to get the Telecom portfolio for Andimuthu Raja once again in the UPA-II – and that Singh had no say in the cabinet formation – senior ministers strove to implicate the Prime Minister enough to make him quit in disgust while publicly mouthing platitudes in his defence. It was schizophrenia at its best.


Dr Manmohan Singh is made of sterner stuff. Like the now forgotten Yuri Andropov who collected a handful of aides to erode the hated Soviet citadel from within, the Sardar too seems to have a set of unknown loyalists. His political ‘guru’ P.V. Narasimha Rao – no one even knew they were acquainted with each other until Manmohan Singh was anointed Union Finance Minister! – had secret Hindu sympathies that permitted the unhindered removal of the Babri structure in 1992 and so tilted the scales against the Congress in Uttar Pradesh that the party could not return to power for over a decade at the Centre, and that too only in coalition.


No one knows yet if Manmohan Singh has a covert personal or political agenda. But it is near certain that he was legitimately offended, if not enraged, at being asked at the very height of his stature as leader of a rising economic power who was being courted as a statesman in the international area, to step down in favour of the Amethi non-entity, who cannot even speak cogently on any issue of national concern and tends to disappear when things get politically controversial.


Sun shines over Robert Vadra


Whispers about the financial rise and rise of Robert Vadra have been doing the rounds for some years, escalating during the Commonwealth Games, but there was no independent corroboration of the same. This growing eminence is obviously a concerted decision of the Gandhi family and its courtiers, but could not have taken place without the knowledge of Dr Manmohan Singh and many others in industry and government. Thus, as in the Radia tapes episode, there are many sources from which the news could have leaked and it would be impossible to impute motives or fix responsibility. What is pertinent is the timing – it coincides with concerted attacks on the Prime Minister.


Robert Vadra’s entry into the real estate business has been accompanied by a partnership with the country’s largest realty firm, DLF Ltd, a staggering feat by any standards (The Economic Times, 14 March 2011). Hitherto known for the export of faux jewellery and handicrafts, the 42-year-old Vadra quietly switched lanes in 2008, buying up land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting to enter the business of chartering aircraft, a quantum jump that certainly merits an explanation.

Vadra seems to have floated a number of companies, some of which have received unsecured loans from the DLF group companies, including the Bombay Stock Exchange-listed flagship DLF Ltd. Readers may recall that during investigations into the Spectrum Scam, the CBI found that a number of non-entity (shell) companies had received and passed on unsecured loans that ended up in Kalaignar TV! It believes these were bribes received against the sale of spectrum at throwaway prices, and that the loans would ultimately be cancelled as ‘bad debt’ and the slate wiped clean. Thus, Vadra’s receipt of unsecured loans certainly merits a probe.


Sky Light Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. (wholly owned by Vadra and his mother Maureen Vadra) is a partner, along with DLF Hotel Holdings and others, in a partnership firm that owns the posh Hilton Garden Inn in Saket.

DLF’s generous loans to Vadra companies, some without collateral, include:

-        As on March 2009, Sky Light Hospitality had received unsecured loans amounting to Rs 25 crore from DLF Ltd.

-        As on March 2010, only Rs 10 crore remained. It was unclear from the statement of accounts if the rest was paid back or written off.

-        Sky Light Hospitality in turn loaned money to other Vadra-owned companies such as Blue Breeze Trading Pvt. Ltd, North India IT Parks Pvt. Ltd, Real Earth Estates Pvt. Ltd and Sky Light Realty Pvt. Ltd.


Knowledge of such unprecedented asset escalation naturally took the polity by surprise, though the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party tried to play down the issue owing to the covert proximity of some top leaders with the Congress and Sonia Gandhi in particular. A pathetic argument was forwarded that the party should not target the “family members” of the Congress leadership, an euphemism for Sonia Gandhi, though such sensitivity was not extended to the India-born M. Karunanidhi, and anyway has no place in public life.


For the CPI-M, however, Robert Vadra’s successful entrepreneurship has come as a timely boon, and the party hopes to extract full mileage from the same during the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala. Sitaram Yechury emphasized that there was a strong case for an independent inquiry into Vadra’s activities.


Ra(h)ul (da) Vinci


Any investigation into Robert Vadra’s entrepreneurial prominence must legitimately cover the coy attempts of his brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi to become a business magnate. Media reports about the Amethi MP are opaque and have been noted perfunctorily only because Gandhi was compelled to reveal the same in his affidavit before the Election Commission.


In 2002, Rahul Gandhi launched a consultancy engineering firm, Backops Services Private Limited, with an authorized share capital of Rs 25 lakhs, divided into 25,000 equity shares of Rs 100 each. Gandhi himself held 83 per cent shares in the firm; the other shareholders were close family friend and aide Manoj Muttu; Anil Thakur, son of Madhya Pradesh Governor Rameshwar Thakur; and Delhi resident Ranvir Sinha.


Gandhi holds a mysterious M. Phil degree in Development Studies from Cambridge University, UK, though nobody knows when and where he completed his graduate and post-graduate studies. To this day not a single person has surfaced anywhere in the world to say that Raul Vinci (his disguise) was his/her classmate at x y or z college. The then Cambridge Master Amartya Sen defended the degree while stoutly declining to give details. However, in the wake of the Saif Gaddafi Ph.D. degree scam, it may be safe to assume that a friendly London establishment “took care of” the academic credentials of the wanna be PM-aspirant.


Similarly Raul Vinci is supposed to have done a stint as financial consultant in London. No colleague has stepped forward to say where, and how good or mediocre he was at the job.


What now merits investigation without delay – and the Supreme Court must urgently look into the same – is how Rahul Gandhi took on the identity of Raul Vinci. The specious plea that this was done for security reasons will not wash: Benazir Bhutto’s son Bilawal studies abroad under his own name, as do the scions of other eminent families.

-        So how did Rahul Gandhi get the Raul Vinci identity?

-        Was he given a Raul Vinci passport by the Indian passport office?

-        If so, what are the names of the alleged parents of Raul Vinci and what is the place of residence given on the document?

-        Or was a passport issued by a foreign country? Does this mean that Rahul Gandhi enjoys dual citizenship of some European country, which is illegal in Indian law?

-        Where is that passport now and how often and where has Rahul Gandhi travelled on it?


On 21 March 2011, The Indian Express reported that some time prior to the 2009 elections, Rahul gave up his business venture, Backops Services Private Limited, to devote himself to full-time politics. It was by all accounts a modest venture, nothing compared to the phenomenal ascent of Robert Vadra. What is pertinent, however, is the suspicious overlap in Rahul Gandhi’s retreat from business and Vadra’s big time leap into the arena.

Wikileaks: Sardar - Signora Dyarchy in distress


The Wikileaks revelations regarding American interest and overseeing of the 2008 cash-for-vote scam due to the Indo-US nuclear deal could not have come at a worse time for Sonia Gandhi, who once stated that the deal was very close to her heart, but did not say why.


On 18 March 2011, Dr Manmohan Singh told Parliament he did not authorise anyone to purchase any votes: “I am not aware of any purchase of votes. Certainly, I am not involved in any such things.” One can readily believe that; it is totally out of sync with the known character of Dr Singh.


More pertinently, all the alleged fixers in the 22 July 2008 cash-for-votes episode are closely aligned with Sonia Gandhi and her family, which lends credence to the view that the nuclear deal was one of her ‘pet projects’ for unknown reasons. To recap the Wiki revelations briefly:


-        Gandhi family loyalist Satish Sharma’s aide Nachiketa Kapur told a US Embassy official that the four RLD MPs [actually three] were paid Rs 10 crores each to vote for UPA-1. [Ajit Singh denied the charges and said his party voted against the government in the no-confidence motion].


-        Kapur allegedly showed the US Embassy employee “two chests containing cash” in July 2008 [to assure him that the nuclear deal would go through] and said Rs 50-60 crores was ready for use as “pay-offs” to win the support of some MPs ahead of crucial vote of confidence following Left withdrawal of support on account of the Indo-US nuke deal.


-        Satish Sharma reportedly told the US Political Counsellor that “PM Singh and others were trying to work on the Akali Dal (8 votes) through NRI businessman Sant Singh Chatwal and others, but unfortunately it did not work out” [robustly denied by Chatwal].


-        Industrialist Mukesh Ambani offered to help secure Shiv Sena’s support.


-        Congress chief Sonia Gandhi might meet Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs.


-        Sharma told US embassy political counselor that Rahul Gandhi was speaking to National Conference’s Omar Abdullah.


-        A Congress insider reported that then commerce minister Kamal Nath was “also helping to spread largesse”.


-        The cables talk of the Left’s troubles with Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s refusal to quit and Ajit Singh’s success in getting Lucknow’s Amausi airport renamed after his late father Charan Singh.


-        Satish Sharma quoted to say he was trying to sow divisions in BJP by working on former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya.


-        Prakash Karat-Sitaram Yechury fault lines; Yechury admitted it was a mistake to have listed Speaker Chatterjee as a CPM MP in a letter withdrawing support, submitted to the President on July 8. A large group of CPM MPs unhappy at Karat for his “failed” strategy.


-        Regarding Left parties, cables say though defections were a possibility, communist party discipline remained strong and members were unlikely to vote with the government.


It thus transpires that the landmark achievement of the UPA in its first innings – the Indo-US Nuclear Deal – was the agenda of Sonia Gandhi, and she put her entire political weight behind it. Dr Manmohan Singh owned it as a good lieutenant and because he was himself pro-America, but he did not have either the money or the manipulative skills to push it through as happened on 22 July 2008.


Sonia Gandhi’s covert patronage of the deal also explains why CNN-IBN ditched the BJP and refused to air the secret tapes of the behind-the-scenes horse-trading as promised on 22 July 2008. Of course this does not explain why Mr L.K. Advani – who had previously made a veiled pledge to Senator Joe Liebermann regarding the deal – chose CNN-IBN to make the recording in the first place, when the party had its own equipment and talent to make the recordings and had done so successfully in another case.


Anyway, it is now evident that the undeserved elevation of the inane Rahul Gandhi has sundered the Sonia Gandhi - Manmohan Singh Dyarchy. Had it not been for an obliging BJP, the regime would have fallen by now.


This may still happen, as Sonia Gandhi may find it cheaper to cut her losses by sinking the government rather than risk the mild-faced Sardar using the state machinery to put the family in the dock, compelling the Supreme Court to order an investigation à la Hasan Ali.


If the government falls out of its own inner contradictions, the BJP will find itself in an unenviable position. 

The author is Editor,

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