ED Summons Robert Vadra: Attempt to Ruin Opposition’s Credibility?
Around the time of the Emergency, the then Congress Chief Minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal, was asked why hundreds of acres of government land near Delhi were allotted to a young, untested man, who wanted to build a car factory. The Congress symbol in those days was the cow and the calf. The young man was Sanjay Gandhi, son of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Moving to more recent times, Asif Ali Zardari’s family owned a cinema hall in Karachi. Robert Vadra’s family traded brass ware in Moradabad. Ordinary, middle-class boys, Zardari and Vadra, saw quantum leaps in their social status, after marrying into the Bhutto and Gandhi families. These families are premier political dynasts in the sub-continent, whose sons-in-law were required to continue the family line, but not do much else of note.
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Politicisation of Criminal Investigations
But in the sub-continent, where politics is a family business, new membership in a political family, becomes good for business. Every business that deals with the government tries to co-opt the ruling family, by adding the new member as a partner. The business forays of President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, also mirrors this pattern.
Thus, the recent summoning and interrogation of Robert Vadra by the Enforcement Directorate must be seen in light of a familiar pattern – of criminal investigations becoming highly political, simply because of the target’s political connections. Any investigation by Special Counsel Mueller against Jared Kushner, is seen as undermining his father-in-law Donald Trump. In India in 2014, the BJP campaigned that they would put damadji behind bars, as soon as they came into power. Almost five years later, they now seem to be attempting to fulfill that promise.
Focus on Bhandari’s Connection With Vadra
Though the allegations against Vadra have been aired since 2012 and more, it is only in 2019, that he has finally been summoned for an investigation. He was required under the terms of his anticipatory bail order, to comply with the investigation. The investigators of the Enforcement Directorate appear to be concentrating on some flats in London, that appear to be under Vadra’s control and presumed ownership.
Sanjay Bhandari, whose emails to Vadra seem to indicate Vadra’s ownership of or exclusive access to the flat, also seems to have been in touch with a lot of influential people. Yet, the investigators seem to be focusing only on Bhandari’s connection with Vadra, to the exclusion of everyone else.
Investigation in the case does not seem to have moved much beyond an email enquiring about the furnishing required in the London flat. Establishing a money trail, confirming ownership of the flat by Vadra or a Vadra- controlled entity, does not seem to have yet been established.
Not Enough Evidence in Public Domain To Merit Interrogation
After seven to eight years of sitting on the investigation, we are yet to see enough evidence in the media, to merit a high-voltage interrogation. It may well be, that the interrogators have more material to confront Vadra, which they do not want to air in the media glare.
When Vadra drove into the Enforcement Directorate, he was not alone – he was dropped off by his wife Priyanka Gandhi, the new General Secretary of a resurgent opposition party. In terms of optics, it went very well. To a spouse-less government, a message was being sent that despite naysayers, here was a marriage that was still intact, and here was a woman who was standing by her man. To a government that does seem to discount women as a voting bloc, the response must have not have been unexpected, but worrying nevertheless.
Too Premature To Judge
As the investigation and interrogation continue, it is premature to judge them either way. News channels who seem to be getting daily leaks in the investigation, appear to think that it is an open-and-shut case. They cannot wait to see Vadra on a tumbril to Tihar. However, the due process of law does not work like that. A smart investigator would do well, to patiently investigate till all cards are played out. Many a slam dunk shot ends up missing the basket altogether.
There is an appellate authority, comprising a retired judge among its members. There are further challenges available in the High Court and Supreme Court. Most importantly, even if the directorate finds proof of ownership of the London flats, the question of enforcing orders of attachment or sale will be subject to British legal procedures.
The ‘Real’ Motive
The effort of the government does not seem to be designed to actually secure the conviction and sentencing of Vadra. Rather, it appears to be a prolonged investigation with a follow up tom-tomming on nightly news “debates”, which seems aimed at rallying the base while destroying the credibility of opponents.
The Congress’s charge of “vendetta politics” has not yet found traction, nor has the BJP’s disingenuous claims of an independent investigation. In election season, such diversionary dramas are to be expected. The real question as Bill Clinton famously reminded everyone is, “It’s the economy, stupid”.
(Sanjay Hegde is a senior advocate at the Supreme Court. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed in the article are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)