Author: Swarn Kumar Anand
Saturday Special, whose columns since 2004 have reflected The Pioneer’s zeal to highlight issues the dowager of Anna Salai daren’t touch, refuses to allow Sonia Gandhi’s loot of public lands go hushed up
In his long, bitter war with the high and mighty of India, Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy has exposed many misdeeds. The very top, i.e. the Nehru-Gandhis of 10, Janpath, have been attacked by him before, but somehow the charges were too fantastic for public comprehension.
But this time, he’s got them over the proverbial barrel.
Public perception is an indivisible part of the democratic process.
Dr Swamy has produced the evidence at a time when consumers of the media (about 10 per cent of the population) were on the verge of saturation by revelations of corruption by politicians of all hues.
“Sab chor hai”, the theme of many Bollywood potboilers, got reiterated with each press conference of Arvind Kejriwal-Prashant Bhushan. The ruling party thought it had got some respite when BJP president Nitin Gadkari fell into the line of fire.
With the main Opposition party left red-faced, the cheerleaders of the Congress looked forward to the declaration of political ceasefire — the civil society and media could be “handled” they thought. It was at this point that Dr Swamy produced the most sensational of all stories. We call it Heraldgate, the “gate” suffix being mandatory after a tradition established in 1972 by Donald Segretti and Dwight Chapin.
We don’t know how “damaging’ it is to our grand old party. In its long and distinguished history, it has been visited by many storms and it has weathered all of them, thanks to the Indian tradition of allowing bygones be bygones. But Heraldgate is a bit different. The leaders of the Congress have been accused of corruption, even proven guilty in quite a few cases. As for the top — the very top — there were scandalous breaches of political and financial propriety: election misdemeanours leading to the Allahabad High Court order leading to Emergency; the Maruti stakeholding pattern; the office of profit case which forced Sonia Gandhi to seek reelection, to name a few.
But Heraldgate is one degree higher. It signals the arrogance which the Congress first family has come to acquire. One had hoped the Sanjay Gandhibusiness model belonged to the past. Anybody with memory of the details of the Maruti scandal — or with a reading of the history of that period — would find parallels between the open disregard to basic rules manifested by Sanjay Gandhi in 1974-76 and the mother-and-son duo’s sleight of hand to laws governing corporate acquisition in 2009-11.
The highest common factor in both instances is Sonia Gandhi. When her brother-in-law named her a director in Maruti, she was an Italian citizen and was legally barred from being a partner. The apology offered in her favour in that case was that she was too innocent of Indian laws and was only eager to please her dear dewarji. But this time, she participated in Heraldgate as the president of the Congress party.
Subramanian Swamy, armed with a series of documents from Registrar of Companies (RoC), put on display the crystal truth that Sonia and Rahul had floated a private company called Young Indian in 2011 with 38 per cent shares each with sinister motives.
The All India Congress Committee created history by giving an unsecured loan of over Rs 90 crore to Associated Journal Pvt Ltd (AJPL), the owner-publisher of National Herald and Quami Awaz newspapers. And as quid-pro-quo, AJPL converted the Rs 90 crore due to Young Indian into equity shares in February 2011. This enabled Young Indian to become almost 99 per cent owner of AJPL and take over prime real estate worth between Rs 1,600 and 2,000 crore.
In his article (Main), Dr Swamy lays down in print (it’s easy to forget TV stories but a newspaper account enters the record books) cites sections of the Income Tax Act to prove that the deal was illegal as a political party cannot lend for commercial purposes.
Interestingly, unlike in UPA-1 when the Congress came under a lot of public flak for Ministerial colleagues’ involvement in the scams, in its second avatar, the Prime Minister and the Gandhi family are themselves in the firing line. The Rs 1.86-lakh-crore coal scam is the first graft charge directly against the PM. The office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) pointed the finger at Manmohan Singh for giving away coal deposits to private players in an arbitrary manner instead of following protocol and publicly auctioning them to the highest bidder.
The exposure of the Robert Vadra-DLF deal and Young Indian’s fraudulent capture of APJL have left the media consuming public convinced that the Congress is a 100 per cent rogue operation. Whether or not this translates into political losses depends on the national Opposition’s ability to put its own house in order. Apart from that, there is always the question that hangs — does corruption really matter on election day?
The failure of India’s media, which likes to think itself as ‘vibrant’, in giving this case the attention it deserves, is the other dirty secret confirmed through Heraldgate. In fact what we saw a new trick deployed to protect the mother-son duo. As if in consultation with party spin doctors, the lead newspapers and channels chose to select for intensive fire Robert Vadra’s land grab and Nitin Gadkari’s sleazy operation with the sincere hope that the smoke and bang would divert public attention from the significantly bigger crime that is Heraldgate.
In the Robert Vadra case, we were surprised to see cabinet ministers and top functionaries in the Congress come out as spokespersons for the ambitious son-in-law. But something more devious was employed to protect Sonia and Rahul. Silence.
When ordinary people see the highest and mightiest of land treat the law as toilet paper, two things happen, often in conjunction. They get emboldened to go the way of their leaders. They also feel small as a people. Insult has been added to injury by the Congress by naming Rahul Gandhi as its campaign head for the next general election. It makes politics seem as the game of kings, where the morals of ordinary mortals don’t matter.
When, at the day, the Congress comes out with enough numbers to form the next government — that’s not an impossibility given the NDA’s restriction to the Hindi belt — Heraldgate will pass into history as the scam which never happened. And the story of India will reach another low point.
(The writer is Joint News Editor, The Pioneer)