As we have reported earlier, Congress has appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East. It appears to be a shrewd move by the party to get its caste equations correct in the state and cut into the Upper Caste vote bank of the BJP.
However, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her husband Robert Vadra have quite a colourful history which perhaps contributed to her delayed official entry into politics. In this article, we shall explore the myriad allegations that have been labelled against the husband-wife duo.
In April 2017, it was alleged that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had bought 5 acres of agricultural land in Amipur village in Faridabad district of Haryana for Rs 15 lakh in 2006 and later sold the same piece of land to the original owner in 2010 at a price of Rs. 80 lakh. The suspicious nature of the transaction came under the radar of the Dhingra Commission which was set up by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to look into deals involving her husband, Vadra.
In 2010, Priyanka’s summer holiday home in Charabbra village of Shimla came under the scanner. She was accused of building the house on land she had allegedly acquired illegally. We have reported on all the controversies surrounding the house in the report linked here.
In a further instance of impropriety, Priyanka was part of the selection process for the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, a state where her husband was facing a probe for a land deal. Vadra was recently summoned for the third time by the Enforcement Directorate in the Bikaner land deal money laundering case after he missed the first two.
Vadra’s history of land deals has been a giant stick at the hands of the BJP to beat the Congress with. Skylight Hospitality Private Limited, a real estate firm Vadra is associated with, is accused of fraudulently acquiring land in Bikaner which was meant for rehabilitation of poor villagers. It is alleged that Skylight had sold 69.55 hectares of land to Allegeny Finlease at ₹7.41 lakh per hectare, but it had purchased the land at the rate of ₹ 1 lakh per hectare. Mahesh Nagar, an authorised representative of several companies linked to Vadra, had bought and sold land on behalf of Skylight Hospitality.
Vadra was first issued summons by the ED in the first week of November followed by the second summons on 24th November, both of which he failed to appear in. On the 21st of January, we had reported that the Rajasthan High Court had directed Vadra and his mother to appear before the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the case.
In September 2015, the Enforcement Directorate had registered a criminal case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), alleging that Sky Light Hospitality, owned by Robert Vadra, had bought a piece of land in Kolayat, Bikaner, on the cheap and sold it at an extremely high premium through illegal transactions
In April 2018, the ED attached land belonging to Jaiprakash Bagarawa, who is believed to be a close aide of Vadra in connection with the Bikaner land scam. As per reports, the agency has the powers to seek judicial custodial interrogation if the accused is wilfully avoiding joining the investigation.
Skylight Hospitality has also been allegedly involved in similar transactions in Haryana and a probe was earlier recommended by the Justice SN Dhingra commission against Bhupinder Singh Hooda alleging that Hooda and some of his government officials have been involved in suspicious land deals with Skylight Hospitality. Skylight Hospitality is also under Income Tax scanner for alleged irregularities in financial transactions in their land deals in Rajasthan and Haryana.
Vadra’s company Skylight Hospitality is accused of buying a 3.5-acre plot in Shikohpur village near Manesar at a cost of Rs 7 crore and then selling it to DLF for Rs 58 crore. The previous Congress government in Haryana allegedly tweaked the rules to facilitate the illegal deal. Vadra is also accused of buying 31 properties in and around Delhi from DLF’s unsecured loans at prices that were much lower than the prevailing market rate.
It was also revealed that Skylight Hospitality was granted licenses on the basis that Vadra was a VIP and the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Priyanka’s husband Vadra has a host of other allegations against him as well. Recently, Manoj Arora, the executive assistant and alleged close-aid of Robert Vadra, was grilled by the ED for his alleged involvement in Robert Vadra’s benami properties in the UK.
On December 8, The ED had raided several premises related to Vadra and had questioned multiple persons connected to the case, which included Congress worker and another close aide of Robert Vadra, Jagdish Sharma. ED had stated that the raids were conducted on suspected individuals believed to have received money from arms dealers.
The money laundering case against Manoj Arora was initiated after investigative agencies began probing arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and confidential defence ministry documents were found in his possession. Following which, one email thread was found from Sanjay Bhandari’s computer, between Monoj Arora, Sanjay Bhandari and Robert Vadra. The email, according to ED, was regarding a London property worth Rs 1.9 million pounds. The source of funds for the plush property which was bought in 2009 is currently under investigation. It was allegedly bought by Vadra and it was Bhandari who funded it.
We also reported that Dassault had, in fact, refused to partner with Bhandari headed OIS due to his proximity to Vadra. In January last year, In January this year, he was declared a ‘proclaimed offender’ by a Delhi court under the Official Secrets Act, due to failure to attend before the court. He is also under CBI investigation for his links with to alleged malpractices in the selection of a Swiss aircraft, Pilatus PC-7. The defence ministry has since suspended all dealings with OIS.
The myriad of allegations against the husband-wife duo certainly delayed her official entry into politics. There have been some quarters within the Congress party which appear to prefer Priyanka Gandhi Vadra over Rahul Gandhi.
In 2016, Priyanka did a campaign for the party in Uttar Pradesh. But she hasn’t been received as well by the public as well as the party had hoped. In an amusing incidence in October, posters had come up at Sonia Gandhi’s constituency which accused Priyanka of being an emotional blackmailer. In February 2017, she was trolled by people on social media, a fate her brother has often suffered. She was also spotted with ‘neutral activist’ Gurmehar Kaur who has been perceived as someone who was milking her father’s sacrifice.
As Rahul Gandhi hasn’t really been a hit with the masses, the Congress party is certainly pinning their hopes on Priyanka. However, given her history and her husband’s, it’s unclear how the public will receive her. In fact, the induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra would probably give the BJP another poll plank served to them on a silver platter. The BJP and especially Prime Minister Modi has often spoken about the Dynasty and how the Gandhi family tends to put the family name above meritocracy.
In Priyanka Vadra’s case as well, it is evident that her entry into politics is fuelled by her name and the fact that she resembles Indira Gandhi is her appearance and that the Congress party hopes that her Indira Gandhi look-alike feature would consolidate the Congress loyalist votes which had abandoned the party. With the myriad corruption allegations against Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her husband, the Congress seems to have taken a massive gamble and with the power of social media, it is unlikely that they will be able to whitewash the image of Priyanka and Robert being entrenched in corruption. How this move will pan out for the Congress party and how it is used by BJP to counter the Congress, remains to be seen.