The mills of god grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s daughter, Priyanka Vadra, shot herself in the foot when she sprang into the limelight fearing an exposé in the Dhingra Commission report that has concluded that her husband, Robert Vadra, a small time exporter of costume jewellery at the time of their marriage in 1997, had earned a colossal Rs 50 crore without investing a penny.
A thorough explanation, if not investigation, is in order.
This feat owes its success to irregularities in allotment of land licenses in Gurgaon during the regime of then Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. This was the Golden Era when it seemed that the sun would never set on the Gandhi Parivar. Alas.
Knowledge that a prominent newspaper had accessed a copy of the report caused Priyanka Vadra to issue a statement explaining her hitherto unknown land deal in Faridabad in 2006, which explanation raises more questions than it answers. A thorough explanation, if not investigation, is in order.
The Justice Dhingra panel was set up by the BJP government in May 2015, to investigate the grant of commercial licenses to real estate firms in four villages of Gurgaon, where “gross procedural irregularities” were detected. The companies include M/s Skylight Hospitality, in which Robert Vadra and his mother, Maureen Vadra, are the sole directors.
Then B.S. Hooda learnt that The Economic Times had accessed a copy of the Dhingra Commission report on Thursday, 27 April 2017, he approached the Punjab and Haryana High Court for a restraining order against publishing its contents, but withdrew his plea after the court said this was beyond its jurisdiction.
As Priyanka Vadra has herself let the cat out of the bag as far as her own property deals are concerned, they are naturally being subjected to Twitteratti scrutiny.
Within hours of this development, Priyanka Vadra issued a suo moto statement to the effect that land purchased by her in Faridabad district of Haryana “has no relationship whatsoever with Shri Robert Vadra’s finances and/or Skylight Hospitality and no relationship whatsoever with DLF”, the impugned firm in several of Robert Vadra’s rags-to-riches story. The Dhingra Commission report is yet to be tabled in the Haryana Vidhan Sabha, and the Court has given an interim stay on its release; an issue which need not detain us.
As Priyanka Vadra has herself let the cat out of the bag as far as her own property deals are concerned, they are naturally being subjected to Twitteratti scrutiny. According to her own statement, on 28 April 2006, six years before the purported “land deal involving Skylight Hospitality”, Priyanka Vadra had purchased 40 kanal (5 acres) of agricultural land in Village Amipur, tehsil Faridabad, district Faridabad, Haryana. The land was purchased for a total price of Rs 15 lakh, at the circle rate of Rs 3 lakh per acre, and was paid for entirely by cheque.
This is where the deal turns murky. In an attempt to protect herself against allegations of “converting” Robert Vadra’s easy earnings, Priyanka Vadra tried to defend herself by putting the supposedly ‘full details’ of the land deal on record. Only she raised more questions than she answered!
First and foremost, which income tax officers should have flagged when the transactions took place, is why a property purchased at circle rates was resold just four years later at market rates…
To begin with, Priyanka Vadra claims that the source of her funds – she has not been employed for a single day in her life – was rental income from property inherited from her paternal grandmother, late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She further adds that the source of funds for this or any other property acquired by her has no relationship with her husband’s finances or those of his companies, and especially the controversial realty major, DLF.
Recall that in 2002, Priyanka Vadra told Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that she could not afford to pay Rs 53,000/- as market value for a house in Lodi Estate, where family acolytes fought to install her for her own “security” (as a future leader of the nation!!!). The then NDA government promptly obliged and reduced the rent to Rs 8000/month, which is what students from outside Delhi pay for one-room paying guest accommodation.
Before scrutinising her claims, it would be in order to follow her complete statement, which indicates immense panic at the creeping proximity of the law of the land to what was once an impregnable Gandhi Fortress. Priyanka explains that having bought the land at the circle rate of Rs 3 lakh per acre (the minimum price at which the land can be registered for purposes of estate duty to the state), she resold it to the same seller (original vendor pursuant to a right of first refusal) four years later, on 17 February 2010, at the prevailing market rate of Rs 16 lakh per acre, thereby netting a cool Rs 80 lakh, by cheque.
Many questions arise. First and foremost, which income tax officers should have flagged when the transactions took place, is why a property purchased at circle rates was resold just four years later at market rates, that too, to the same person, who paid five times the original price on which he sold the land. Agreed that this period may have been the high noon of property prices in the National Capital Region, but the buyer needs to explain why property sold so cheap was repurchased at full market value in just four years, and the source of funds to explain this magnanimity.
But the larger question pertains to the property allegedly inherited from late Indira Gandhi. Where and when did Indira Gandhi purchase these properties; did she declare the same in her personal income tax returns, and are they cited in her will? These are questions that Priyanka Vadra cannot now evade. Since Indira Gandhi died in October 1984, any transfer of property from her name should have been completed by 1985. Can Priyanka Vadra show unbroken possession of such property in her name, from which she claims rental income?
In April 2014, it was discovered that Priyanka Vadra and her mother-in-law Maureen Vadra possessed multiple DIN (Director Identification Numbers).
In her affidavit to the Election Commission, Rai Bareli MP, Sonia Gandhi, mother of Priyanka Vadra, states her immovable assets as three Bigha self-purchased agricultural land in Village Deramund (no further details given), worth over Rs four crore, and 12 Bigha & 15 Biswas in Village Sultanpur, worth over Rs one crore. There is no non-agricultural land, commercial building or residential building, other than an interest in property inherited in Italy.
Amethi MP, Rahul Gandhi, brother of Priyanka Vadra, has declared his sole immovable asset as 2.346 acres of agricultural land, the Indira Gandhi Farm House, in Village Sultanpur, Mehrauli, New Delhi, which he owns jointly with his sister. As per circle rate, the land is valued at Rs. 53 lakh per acres. There is no record of this property ever being put on rent.
There is no public record of late Indira Gandhi owning any other property (the farmhouse was inherited from late Feroze Gandhi) which was bequeathed to Priyanka Vadra exclusively. Having suo moto initiated explanations which distance her entirely from any income earned by her husband in whatever manner, Priyanka Gandhi must make a complete disclosure of this inherited property and the rental income it has yielded over the years.
Explanations are also due for her purchase of 4.25 Bigha at Mashobra, near Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, between 2007 and 2013, for constructing a house. The property is next door to the President’s retreat in a high security zone, and is therefore high value as well. Newspaper reports indicate that the house was constructed and demolished at least once (some say twice) as Priyanka did not like the design. The purchase involved special relaxation of Section 118 of Tenancy and Land Reforms Act that bars any non-agriculturist from purchasing land without the permission of the government. Priyanka Vadra approached the high court last year for a stay against the State Government releasing details of her purchase to an RTI activist.
This is not Priyanka Vadra’s first brush with controversy, but she may now find her once virulently protective media acolytes less eager to defend her. In April 2014, it was discovered that Priyanka Vadra and her mother-in-law Maureen Vadra possessed multiple DIN (Director Identification Numbers). This phenomenon is generally associated with businesses not known to Income Tax authorities. Priyanka Vadra was found to possess three DINs (01038703, 01840144 and 0291439) and Maureen Vadra two (01840680 and 01839769), which is an offence under Section 154 and 155 of the Companies Act 2013.
With social media going berserk over the manner in which Priyanka Gandhi has distanced herself from her husband and his business activities, she will find it difficult to explain the sources of funds for her acquisitions.
In May 2014, facing life without power, Priyanka Vadra claimed inadvertent error and paid a fine to the Union Ministry of Corporate Affairs.
Her name also figured in some of the murky dealings that enabled Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi to transfer the properties of the public limited company, Associated Journals Pvt Ltd, that owned the National Herald Group of publications, to a private firm (Young Indian) in which they held the controlling interest.
With social media going berserk over the manner in which Priyanka Gandhi has distanced herself from her husband and his business activities, she will find it difficult to explain the sources of funds for her acquisitions. Yet, explain she must.
1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.