Known as ‘Mappillai’ in Tamil and ‘Damad’ in Hindi, all sons-in-law have high standing in Indian families -- religion, caste, region and language regardless.
No surprise therefore that sons-in-law of wealthy, powerful families make news, mostly for wrong reasons. Some months ago, Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, was in the news for building, in just four years, real estate empire worth couple of billion Dollars [Rs 11,000 crore], according to California’s Celebritynetworth.com, which even the media that adores Sonia Gandhi had to confess as reeking of corruption.
When Arvind Kejriwal exposed the shenanigans of Vadra, for the first time therefore even Sonia-friendly media raised eyebrows about her. But within hours of the exposure, she certified Vadra as honest, directed her party to defend her son-in-law. Yet the media did manage to keep the issue alive.
In April last Haryana Government cleared Vadra of wrong doing. Before the media could scrutinise the fake clearance, the CBI and Law Minister Ashwini Kumar were shockingly caught fabricating CBI report to Supreme Court followed by the CBI catching Railway Minister Pawan Bansal’s nephew selling top posts in the Railways. Vadra went out of the radar even as both ministers made noisy exit.
When the Prime Minister’s head was the next, came the news of spot fixing in Indian Premier League [IPL] cricket matches. All previous scams of lakhs of crores of rupees moved out of the radar as another son-in-law, who held himself out as the owner of Chennai Super Kings team, was caught punting on matches.
Gurunath Meiyappan, the hitherto unknown son-in-law of N Srinivasan who heads the high profile Board of Control for Cricket of India [BCCI] has virtually saved the UPA Government that was being chased by the media and the Supreme Court.
Obviously a smalltime punter, Gurunath is in the news for betting on IPL cricket match results. As per police investigating him, far from making money, he was desperately talking to bookies for tips to bet, win and recover the loss of a crore he had made. Yet see where the two sons-in-law stand now. Gurunath is in police custody for an offence that is yet to be made clear and his father-in-law is fighting to save his seat as chairman of the prestigious BCCI. But Vadra, shaming those who had raised questions of corruption against him as ‘mango people’ [aam aadmi] in banana republic [India], still walks like the President and Prime Minister of the country uninterrupted by security in airports and his mother-in-law pontificates on honesty and calls for war against corruption despite the US based Corporate Insider’s count of her [undeclared] wealth at between $2-19 billions. Media berates Srinivasan as shameless. And celebrates Sonia Gandhi for figuring as the 9th most powerful women in Forbes Magazine’s list last week. It is just a prologue to the interesting and contrasting tale of the two sons-in-law - Vadra and Gurunath. Let us recall the Vadra story and contrast it with Gurunath’s.
On October 5, 2012, the Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan disclosed with prima facie evidence that ‘damad’ Robert Vadra has amassed some 31 properties in the last four years mostly in and around New Delhi, which even at the time of their purchase were worth `300 crore and now over `500 crore when the five companies owned by him had a capital of only `50 lakhs. They said that Vadra got the money almost free from the real estate giant DLF in exchange for favours by Congress government in Haryana to DLF - clearly pointing to corruption. The entire media, visual and print, carried the news extensively and stunned the ruling party into silence.
Seeing no one from the Congress defending Vadra through the day, Sonia Gandhi stepped in to defend her ‘damaad’ saying that there has been no misuse of either of the Gandhi family or any other misuse by Vadra who was a businessman and his transactions are transparent and above board. [Zee news 5.10.2012]. She also asked, like an owner of alsatians does, the Congress party to go after those who went after Vadra.
“Sonia Gandhi tells Congress to defend Robert Vadra against allegations”, said NDTV [5.10.2012]. Then it was a pack of wolves let loose against the mango people and the media. Capturing how the wolves were let loose, wrote The Hindu [8.10.2012] the day most newspapers had front paged the exposure on Vadra, Congress spokespersons were briefing media on economic reforms and the appreciation of the Rupee, and how government was confident of getting the insurance and pensions bills passed in Parliament!
The party had actually distanced itself from Vadra, saying he was not a party member and stressing that his accusers could go to court. But that very evening, with Sonia fiat, everything changed. Ministers and party men vied to defend Vadra. Two days later, the Congress even said that the attack on Vadra was a planned conspiracy not against Vadra an individual but targeted at the entire Congress and its leadership - read Sonia. Meanwhile, on 8.10.2012, Vadra came out with his mango people in banana republic tweet, which Sonia Gandhi explained on 10.10.2012 as not Vadra’s but Varun Gandhi’s!
Soon, the UPA allies stepped in to rescue the first family. Sharad Pawar even dared Arvind Kejriwal to go to court to substantiate his allegations. This was the very man who told N Srinivasan to resign forthwith if he had an iota of honesty! Why then a different rule for the son-in-law of the first family, Mr Pawar?
Lalu Prasad accused Kejriwal of targeting Vadra for “cheap publicity.” Not to be left out the Prime Minister’s Office too came out in defence of Vadra by filing an affidavit in Allahabad High Court on 22.11.2012.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram said that it was just private transaction between two individuals which cannot be questioned on the basis of insinuations, unless there was quid pro quo or corruption. But, if it were two private individuals dealing why should the ruling party, ministers and government defend Vadra? Why did the Congress say that the target was not an individual but Sonia. Then, where were the Opposition? The BJP just stopped short of defending Vadra. Only sections of the media was still trying to keep the issue alive. The Livemint online ran a 38-page coverage of the fraud. The India Today ran a detailed exposure of Vadra [22.10.2012]. Earlier, on 15.10.2012, Ashok Khemka, IAS officer handling Vadra’s case, cancelled sale by Vadra to DLF of the property he had bought at `7.5 crore for `58 crore. He was transferred from his job within 10 days [25.10.2012]. Not as punishment, the CM Hooda asserted. Out of compassion then? This raised a hue and cry. Earlier, on 19.10.2012 the DNA came out with an exposure that Vadra has bought 770 hectares of land in a Rajasthan village at double the market rates during 2009-2011 with inside information about the development plans of the government in that area, with the result the value of the land has shot up by 40 times over the price paid by him.
The Business Standard wrote [9.3.2013] an investigative expose titled ‘How a Rajasthan village lost of Rober Vadra’ detailing how Vadra made a killing in the deal. But came the Haryana government exoneration of Vadra on April 22. 2013.
And with the subsequent scams, now the IPL scam taking over the media headlines, Vadra remains declared an honest business man now and Sonia Gandhi as the Mrs Clean of politics!
Gurunath, whose offence is petty as compared to Vadra’s loot, was not fortunate like Vadra to have had an all powerful in-law family. Obviously Vadra chose the right family to marry. Lesson: those who want to be celebrity sons-in-law must choose the right family to marry before attempting to make wrong money!
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues.