Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A political witchhunt against Vadra….

Not for a moment am I saying that Vadra is innocent. Nor am I ready to accept that he is guilty. The truth is that there simply hasn’t been any findings that could help us decide the matter. The “inquiry” ordered by Ashok Khemka on October 8th was conducted so fast that by October 15th (in a mere seven days), he was in a position to conclude that the mutation deal should be canceled, albeit on a mere “technicality”. Such haste – or zeal should I say – is unheard of in the bureaucracy unless there is an agenda. In this case, the agenda  appears to be a witchhunt. As always, the truth will get buried underground. Political opponents will score a few brownie points and some of us will say “Oh my God” and move on.

But pause for a moment and think of what’s going on here. What is the Haryana government accused of? Of allowing mutation of the deal very quickly (in a day, rather than the usual three months). Of allowing the usage of the land to be changed (allowing construction to start). That’s it. It’s not like government land has been sold off cheap to Vadra (like Yeddy is accused of doing so in Karnataka). This isn’t the big “quid-pro-quo” that the Haryana Government has provided to Vadra, is it?  Governments giving special treatment to the politically connected is hardly a secret. Why are we acting so surprised now? Only because it is Vadra who is involved here?

One of the known truths about India is that the Real Estate sector is a huge source of black money for the political class. If the electoral system requires an estimated Rs 1 lac crores every five years to fight elections, then that has to come from a few “special” sectors traditionally popular with the political class. Real estate. Mining. Licenses of all types. The PDS system. There are quite a few more, but let’s look at the Real Estate sector for a moment.

Almost all land deals in India are partially in black. The black component can vary from 30% to as high as 90% at times. The only rare exception is when land parcels have been auctioned off, as in Mumbai. One of the sub-texts of such land transactions is the conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural, a process that allows construction to happen and land to suddenly acquire value. In fact, the conversion to non-agricultural status is a pre-requisite in most land deals. Also, those who acquire agricultural land are not usually farmers, but they still manage to call themselves that by bribing Government officials. So wealthy non-farmers first acquire farm land by bribing officials; then bribe again to get the land converted to non-agricultural status. This generates huge black money for all political parties and governments. This is not the same as Governments giving away their own lands at a throwaway price. That would be high-order corruption. This is merely another example of how thousands of bureaucrats earn their “under the table” share. The extent of the black money is so high that ordinary god-fearing people stay away from land deals. They prefer to invest in relatively cleaner flats and apartments. The really brave, or the really well connected are the ones who buy land.

That Robert Vadra is well connected is obvious. But that he’s the only one well connected is a white lie. Every single politician in India has his or her hand in some or the other land deal. Wait for IAC’s announcements (or should we say “pronouncements of guilt” as is their wont) against Gadkari. I can bet they will say that he is the kingpin of some land racket. So much of Maharashtra’s politics is intertwined with land; almost all party leaders have land in Mumbai and elsewhere either in their own name benami. Prithviraj Chauhan is one of the rare CMs who is trying to clean up the real estate business. And for doing that, he is under constant threat of losing his job. It’s good that the Congress hasn’t buckled under alliance pressure so far. How long he will continue is difficult to say.

Equally, Khemka is hardly the saint he is being made out to be. By canceling the mutation yesterday, after having been transferred, he has erred. The norm is that once you are transferred, you let the new person take the calls. Khemka’s motivation looks too exuberant; the source no doubt Vadra’s family connections and a chance to show himself as the brave David fighting a Governmental Goliath. The fact that Khemka had to be transferred 40 odd times in 20 years is not an indication of his virtuous character, but the fact that he simply cannot fit into a system and work as a team player. There are thousands others who are honest and yet don’t have to be transferred this way. No Government has found him maintainable. Since it’s unheard of to sack IAS officers, he keeps getting shunted around. In the private sector, he would be called a misfit; perhaps even a non-performer and would have been sacked early on. If the Government is often guilty of being high-handed, there are enough cases where bureaucrats are as guilty. They dig in their heels and become pain points. That does not make them messiahs of truth and virtue. Take Kejriwal, the Joker in the political pack (henceforth abbreviated to just Joker). He violated his service norms, abused his education leave privilege, kept earning his salary while on leave as per rules, and then refused to pay it back when he broke those rules. All this with a brazen “let’s see what you can do” attitude. What was his plan? That anyone who fought the government would be called a martyr or a whistleblower. The Joker was the aggresor; so could Khemka well be.

So here is what emerges. Vadra has most likely abused his political connections; maybe his connections helped him get his way without paying a bribe. Others would have had to. But that’s it. The work gets done for everyone ultimately! The Haryana government obviously wants to oblige Sonia Gandhi, considering the CM owes his survival to her fancy. But equally true is that Vadra is being witchhunted because he is Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. Proof? Millions of others who indulge in the same thing don’t get investigated the same way. This is the curse of being a celebrity in today’s India, as we have seen in other contexts also. A celebrity who merely injures a person while driving is now sure to go to jail. A more ordinary mortal will probably escape by paying off some cop even if he’s done much worse. Lastly, no one gains politically. Definitely not the BJP. Every political party is now shi**** bricks. Who is it going to be next? Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj? Prakash Karat and Sharad Yadav? Suddenly, no one knows what’s going to happen next. If the Government was in paralysis earlier; the entire political class is now.

The real truth is the Vadra-Khemka episode may be a very entertaining drama. But it is this interesting only and only because Vadra is the son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi. Take that away, and there are millions others – including most of us – who have been involved in some or the other hanky panky with land deals. Let’s not be moral purists here….A case has been filed apparently. Let the courts hear the appeals and decide. Lets hold our horses till then….

1 comment:

  1. Again biased viewpoint, looks you love congress.. Vadra should follow PM family steps & using power like this is really sad