Robert Vadra, Ashok Khemka and Arvind Kejriwal: War on corruption is lost?

Two apparently unrelated events played out in judicial courts earlier this week. The Enforcement Directorate sought the CBI court’s permission for custodial interrogation of Robert Vadra and the Punjab & Haryana High Court set aside the Haryana chief minister’s career-scuttling notings against IAS officer Ashok Khemka.

Dial back to 2012, when Khemka exposed Vadra’s dubious deal with realty major DLF in Haryana. Fast forward to 2014, when the BJP successfully parleyed the expose to target the Congress First Family. It swept Haryana, both in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha.

The third player in the drama featuring Vadra and Khemka was Arvind Kejriwal, the anti-corruption activist who first questioned the Congress son-in-law’s real estate dealings. Like the BJP, he benefited from the expose and swept Delhi. For the political players, Kejriwal and the BJP, it was a win-win but for both Vadra and Khemka – the perpetrator and his nemesis – it would prove to be a lose-lose. In the BJP regime, Vadra went on to face multiple investigations and Khemka to khudda-line (sidey) postings.

The event triggered an investigation into all of Vadra’s land dealings, as well as those of his wife and brother-in-law. Strategic ‘leaks’ from the investigating agencies have pointed the needle of suspicion at Vadra. The law may hold him innocent until proven guilty, but the BJP thinks otherwise. So well did the Vadra card play out in 2014, that the party has been unable to resist using it once again.

The Gandhi siblings have maintained a discreet distance from Vadra’s dealings in the last decade. Priyanka, however, did what many speculators do – bought land cheap and sold it at a profit. In her case, unfortunately, the seller and the buyer was the same individual and one who is not only an associate of Vadra’s but under investigation by the ED. Naturally, the BJP raised the red flag: Why would a shady operator sell land only to buy it back at fives times the price, thereby incurring a loss?

As Vadra struggled with the Income Tax department and the ED, Khemka had his own troubles. He was selected for a post in the Prime Minister’s Office but unceremoniously dumped at the last minute. He went on to curb corruption in various departments of BJP-ruled Haryana, but was side-lined for his pains. The spurious cases against him by the previous Congress-led regime eventually died from a lack of substance, no thanks to the BJP.

Most tragic of all, the abuse of power to enable profiteering in land continued. The Vadra-DLF deal was only the tip of the iceberg exposed by Khemka. Long before the events of 2012, Khemka had red-flagged the shocking manner in which the state government sought to benefit realtors by ignoring the laws protecting village commons and the Aravalli Hills – Delhi’s bulwark against the desert.

The BJP government has continued on the same trajectory, going so far as to amend the law to do so. Fortunately for the citizens of Delhi, the Supreme Court stayed the amendment (to the protective Punjab Land Preservation Act) and dubbed it “shocking” and “obnoxious”.

Meanwhile, Kejriwal reached out to the Congress, the very people he had vilified for corruption. He justified the move by saying it was a choice between two evils and the BJP was far more evil than the Congress. This epiphany may have resulted from his experience of living under the BJP’s unrelenting heel as Delhi CM. Detractors see it as a betrayal of his mandate; after all, he came to power on an anti-Congress vote.

In public perception, the political class targets corruption or abuse of power in a selective and self-serving manner. So the ED’s plea for custodial interrogation of Vadra, even if it has been made in the normal course, is likely to be read as an attempt to ramp up pressure on the Congress in general and Priyanka in particular. If that is indeed the objective, it may not succeed, given the combative Congress heir’s penchant for tackling threats heads-on.

Realpolitik and the war on corruption cannot go hand-in-hand. The BJP lionised Khemka for exposing abuse of power under Congress rule, but was deeply upset when he continued to do so under its own regime. Kejriwal started his political career by targeting the Congress on corruption. For him, that’s no longer the central issue. His survival hinges on keeping the BJP out of power and he is willing to make a deal with his previous devil, the Congress, to do it.

 is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.

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