The Congress, after being cornered over party president Sonia Gandhi's son-in law Robert Vadra's land deals, has now said that it has enough evidence of corruption against families of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and senior BJP leader LK Advani. However, General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said his party will never disclose the details.
Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Digvijaya further defended Robert Vadra, saying the allegations made against him were hollow and an 'excellent story' created by the media.
Below is the transcript of the full interview.
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to the Devil's Advocate. Has Robert Vadra damaged the Gandhi family? That's the key issue I shall discuss today with the Congress General Digvijaya Singh. Mr Digvijaya Singh, let me start with the simple question. Have the many allegations and revelations about Robert Vadra, which have dominated the news for two weeks, damaged the Gandhi family's image?
Digvijaya Singh: Not at all.
Karan Thapar: You really mean that not at all?
Digvijaya Singh: Yes, yes Karan. I never say things which I would rather take back later on. You see, Robert Vadra comes from a family, one the most eminent handicraft exporters of Moradabad. He is not one person who had no assets before he got married to Priyanka Gandhi.
Karan Thapar: I will readily accept that but pause for a moment and consider the serious allegation against Robert Vadra.
Digvijaya Singh: What are the allegations, let's discuss.
Karan Thapar: I tell you, the serious allegation is that the fortunes of his company in six short years have ballooned from mere Rs 50 lakh to over Rs 300 crore because the favours where done by the DLF and the Haryana government and can you deny that those favours were done only because he is Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law and it amounts to gross impropriety?
Digvijaya Singh: What are the decisions that the Haryana government has taken in favour of Robert Vadra?
Karan Thapar: You really want me to tell you?
Digvijaya Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: Ok, let's begin, let's look first at the exposes done by the Business Standard and The Hindu which show that he bought 3.5 acres of land in Manesar, Haryana through his company Sky Light Hospitality in February 2007. Within 24 hours of purchasing the land it was mutated into his name. That usually takes six months to a year but that happened in 24 hours flat, that's the first favour.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, is mutation illegal?
Karan Thapar: No, but look at the speed.
Digvijaya Singh: First you people alleged that the government takes decision very slowly. If some officer takes a decision quickly, that's also normal.
Karan Thapar: But that's only a quick decision in the case of Robert Vadra because he is Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, it wouldn't happen for you and me.
Digvijaya Singh: How do you know that such decisions have not been taken for others?
Karan Thapar: The simple reason that the whole world was so surprised that he got mutation in 24 hours.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, was mutation illegal?
Karan Thapar: Of course not. It's the speed.
Digvijaya Singh: Is speed illegal?
Karan Thapar: No, but it's a sign of favour.
Digvijaya Singh: It may be a sign of favour for you but if a competent officer he should be given medal.
Karan Thapar: Alright, look at the next stage what happens, six weeks after the mutation, the Haryana government grants permission for the land to be used for commercial use, thus exponentially and dramatically enhancing its value. Now again it's not illegal but look at the speed with which the change to commercial use is granted. In six weeks flat.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, the Haryana government has already replied to this charge. Again, is it illegal?
Karan Thapar: It's the speed.
Digvijaya Singh: Why are you saying that speed is illegal?
Karan Thapar: I am not saying that speed is illegal.
Digvijaya Singh: Or speed is a favour.
Karan Thapar: Two incidents of speed suggests favour and that's impropriety.
Digvijaya Singh: No, speed is not impropriety, speed should be rewarded. If all actions are taken quickly, all decisions are taken quickly then the person should be rewarded.
Karan Thapar: Unfortunately the story that I am telling you doesn't stop at this point.
Digvijaya Singh: Go ahead.
Karan Thapar: Within 65 days of permission to switch to commercial use was granted to Robert Vadra, DLF steps in and buys the land which he bought for Rs 7.5 crore for Rs 58 crore which is an increase of 770 per cent.
Digvijaya Singh: DLF is a public limited company Karan. They are responsible to their directors and the AGM. Why shouldn't the AGM, the share holders, the directors question the chairman for this?
Karan Thapar: And no doubt at some point they will. The story has just emerged. What I am pointing out is that this huge eight-times increase in value was once again probably because the land was being bought from Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law.
Digvijaya Singh: Come on Karan, these allegations can go on forever, but is the chairman of DLF or the managing director of DLF not accountable to his board of directors, is he not accountable to his share holders?
Karan Thapar: When the shareholders discover because the story has just emerged in The Business Standard and The Hindu, no doubt the share holders will ask questions.
Digvijaya Singh: Naturally.
Karan Thapar: But at the moment the impropriety centers around your party president's son-in-law.
Digvijaya Singh: Listen to me, if my son-in-law or my daughter benefit from some decisions taken in a particular case by the state government run by the Congress party then I may be hanged.
Karan Thapar: That's exactly what's happened to Robert Vadra.
Digvijaya Singh: No. All your allegations have been number one, speed, impropriety, number two say, increase in value of land of Mr Vadra which he sold to DLF, so DLF should be questioned. How does Mrs Sonia Gandhi come into this?
Karan Thapar: Let me then move a stage further because as I say this is like an onion. Each time you peel a layer, there is more.
Digvijaya Singh: Go ahead.
Karan Thapar: The first problem is that in February 2007, when Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality bought the land for Rs 7.5 crore the total value of Sky Light Hospitality, declared by Sky Light Hospitality was just Rs one lakh. And in fact the sale was put into Robert Vadra's books as a book over draft. The key question that arises is that who paid of the overdraft because at no point the money existed in Sky Light Hospitality when the purchase was made. So who paid off the overdraft?
Digvijaya Singh: Karan first of all I am not charted accountant. Number two, I have not seen the balance sheet of Mr Robert Vadra, so how do I answer this question?
Karan Thapar: I tell you because the suspicion once again, and this is a suspicion you understand though you're smiling, your smile suggests that you understand it… that the money was given...
Digvijaya Singh: No.
Karan Thapar: Let me finish then you answer, the suspicion that the money was given by DLF to help Vadra buy the Manesar land because DLF knew if Vadra bought the land he'll be able to change the land use to commercial then he puts it back to DLF, both parties will benefit, and what we have is a sweetheart deal that smacks of crony capitalism and smacks of impropriety.
Digvijaya Singh: I am smiling Karan because the allegations that you are making are so hollow...
Karan Thapar: Horrible would be better word.
Digvijaya Singh: Hollow, first of all you are challenging the speed which you call not illegal but improper. Number two, you're alleging a business deal between two companies and the chairman of DLF should be accountable to this board of directors. Number three, now again, if Mr Robert Vadra's company has bought a land worth X amount for which he did not have the money in his account, Mr Robert Vadra would answer this, not Digvijaya Singh.
Karan Thapar: I am suggesting something much more than what you are saying. You have fractured the story in little bits to answer it, piece it together, I am suggesting a nexus of crony capitalism between Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law, DLF who was looking to give favour to Robert Vadra and Robert Vadra using his position as son-in-law to get the Haryana government run by the Congress to do things for him. And that sweetheart nexus is how Robert Vadra, I am suggesting, ended up multiplying his company’s fortunes from Rs 50 lakh to Rs 300 crore in six short years.
Digvijaya Singh: Excellent story authored by Karan Thapar, and I would say what is the nexus between Robert Vadra and the Haryana government run by the Congress party?
Karan Thapar: The fact that he is the son-in-law of the lady who is the president of the party that runs the government.
Digvijaya Singh: So what?
Karan Thapar: You know it.
Digvijaya Singh: Has Mrs Sonia Gandhi ever spoken about Mr Robert Vadra to any chief minister or a minister?
Karan Thapar: How do we know it? She is not going to do it in front of me.
Digvijaya Singh: You ask the chief minister.
Karan Thapar: And the chief minister is not going to admit it either. These things happen quietly.
Digvijaya Singh: You cannot hang Mrs Sonia Gandhi for an act which she has not done with your allegations.
Karan Thapar: We'll come to the hanging as you so colourfully call it of Sonia Gandhi in a moment's time. I want to pick up on something you said earlier. You said this was an excellent story suggesting it was fiction. Then how do you account for the fact that Ashok Khemka, the IAS officer of the Haryana cadre was immediately transferred as soon as he began a probe into the land dealings between Robert Vadra and DLF and that too at 10 at night?
Digvijaya Singh: As a chief minister in Madhya Pradesh for ten years, most of the transfers that I issued were in the evenings and it took time for the ministry to take action.
Karan Thapar: But you weren't transferring people because they were probing Robert Vadra's land dealings…
Digvijaya Singh: Robert Vadra never came to Madhya Pradesh.
Karan Thapar: So had he come to Madhya Pradesh, you would have ordered an enquiry into it, that is the suggestion you are making, but you don't mean it. Let's laugh that away. But the truth here is that Ashok Khemka got transferred three days after it became clear that he was enquiring into Vadra's land dealings and I will put it to you that it was done to protect Vadra and to ensure that the dismal sad truth never came out.
Digvijaya Singh: What's gone wrong with you Karan today? Have you seen the service record of Ashok Khemka? Please do that.
Karan Thapar: I know that he has been transferred 43 times in 21 years. That’s because he is an honest, upright bureaucrat…
Digvijaya Singh: That may be your assessment.
Karan Thapar: It is the country's assessment.
Digvijaya Singh: How do you represent the country?
Karan Thapar: Let's not get stuck on Khemka because he is only a side issue. Let's focus on Robert Vadra. Why was Khemka transferred so abruptly when he began enquiring into Vadra's land dealings, if it wasn't for the fact that Haryana wanted to protect Vadra. They didn't want the favours done to Vadra to be exposed. They didn't want the further nexus to DLF to be exposed.
Digvijaya Singh: Is there a complaint by Robert Vadra to the Chief Minister?
Karan Thapar: He is hardly going to be the one to complain.
Digvijaya Singh: Then?
Karan Thapar: Why would Vadra complain when the government is protecting him?
Digvijaya Singh: Did Vadra complain against Ashok Khemka? Number one. Two: The Chief Secretary already asked Ashok Khemka and he said he was satisfied.
Karan Thapar: Khemka has already said he did it under pressure. You do know how bureaucrats are forced to say things when their jobs are on the line, and again you are laughing. Again you are laughing.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan what's gone wrong with you today? You have got a very weak case today.
Karan Thapar: The truth of the matter is that Khemka was transferred because the Haryana government felt that he was getting too close to a truth they don't want to reveal. That truth would embarrass Vadra. More importantly, that truth would embarrass Sonia Gandhi.
Digvijaya Singh: So you think. That may be your assessment.
Karan Thapar: Let me broaden away from the details of an individual expose, even though it is the worst of the lot, I will put it to you, that this is worse than Bofors. In Bofors, the money trail only went to Quattrocchi, it didn't go to the Gandhi family. This time the money trail has gone to the Gandhi family's drawing room.
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, what are you talking about? Mr Robert Vadra had assets before he married Priyanka Gandhi. Number one.
Karan Thapar: Nothing like what he has now.
Digvijaya Singh: One second. Even if you Karan Thapar or Digvijaya Singh had bought land in Haryana, ten years back, it has multiplied more than hundred times.
Karan Thapar: Let me put it like this. You may have any number of explanations to give. But you know and I know that we are talking about perception and that is what matters in politics. And the first question that people ask is this: As Robert Vadra's companies' fortunes were ballooning, was Sonia Gandhi aware and asking questions or was she silent and complicit. How do you, the General Secretary of the party, handle that perception, that her silence is her complicity?
Digvijaya Singh: I am here, Karan Thapar, to demolish that perception. Number one. Number two, Mrs Sonia Gandhi is not a chartered accountant of Mr Robert Vadra.
Karan Thapar: She is the mother-in-law which is worse.
Digvijaya Singh: So what? You think mothers-in-law do the accounting for their sons-in-law?
Karan Thapar: You think that she was unaware when her son-in-law Robert Vadra, and more importantly, her daughter Priyanka Gandhi, who is married to Robert Vadra, were experiencing a change of lifestyle, whereby they were able to do things and afford things and had value and property of Rs 300 crore and she knew none of that?
Digvijaya Singh: How does she know that?
Karan Thapar: Priyanka is her daughter. Wouldn't she tell her?
Digvijaya Singh: So? How do I know that? One can ask Robert.
Karan Thapar: One can assume that Priyanka was.
Digvijaya Singh: How do I know? How can I blame someone without knowing the facts?
Karan Thapar: That's the problem you face. You can't actually demolish what I am suggesting. All you can say is how do you know it's true. In other words, all you can say is that you as an outsider, can't tell. The problem is in terms of perception…
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, I am here to demolish the perception which you media people have built around some land dealings between DLF and Robert Vadra, the facts of which have been given by Robert Vadra.
Karan Thapar: No, Robert Vadra hasn't given any facts.
Digvijaya Singh: He has. He has given in writing the facts on each point raised by Arvind Kejriwal.
Karan Thapar: No.
Digvijaya Singh: DLF has given point-wise facts. The Haryana government has given. If you don't want to look at it and would already like to charge a person, just because he happens to have married Priyanka Gandhi...
Karan Thapar: You know the second perception problem? It is this: people ask is Robert Vadra really the actual intended beneficiary or was he only beneficiary in name. Was the real beneficiary someone else i.e. Sonia Gandhi?
Digvijaya Singh: What's gone wrong with you today?
Karan Thapar: People are asking that question.
Digvijaya Singh: People may be asking but coming from Karan Thapar, I feel disappointed. What I am trying to say is, this perception is absolutely wrong, hype created by the media to glorify Mr Arvind Kejriwal who stands exposed today.
Karan Thapar: The truth of the matter is that the full story that I revealed to you wasn’t revealed by Arvind Kejriwal, but first by Business Standard, then by The Hindu, two newspapers that you respect… and therefore, don’t attribute it to Arvind Kejriwal.
Digvijaya Singh: Yes, in both those, speed was seen as an impropriety.
Karan Thapar: And it is an impropriety, because that benefit of speed is not given to you and me. It only happens to be with Sonia Gandhi.
Digvijaya Singh: How do you know that? Have you seen the other cases?
Karan Thapar: Let me put this to you. Up till now, except for a few brief mentions on his Facebook and a brief statement where he simply called his business baseless and fraudulent, Robert Vadra is silent. As a politician, who knows how to handle the press, do you believe his silence is wise or do you believe his silence is incriminating?
Digvijaya Singh: The allegations are against Robert Vadra and DLF. DLF has replied to every allegation pointwise.
Karan Thapar: But Vadra is silent.
Digvijaya Singh: Probably... whatever I know… I may have missed it… but I have been told that he has issued clarification on each point.
Karan Thapar: You are wrong on that. But let's not contest it. Are you embarrassed by Robert Vadra today?
Digvijaya Singh: No. Certainly not.
Karan Thapar: Do you think he would be wise to speak up and clarify to remove doubts?
Digvijaya Singh: That's his privilege.
Karan Thapar: Would you, if he asks you for advice, suggest that he should speak?
Digvijaya Singh: Why should I advise him?
Karan Thapar: Mr Digvijaya Singh, let's come to the language used by Robert Vadra on his Facebook. Your party considers aam aadmi an icon, you seek power in aam aadmi's name. Robert Vadra, on the other hand, calls the aam aadmi, mango people.
Digvijaya Singh: It is literal translation of the word, aam aadmi. I think there is a great sense of humour in this. Unfortunately, this country doesn’t understand the nuances of humour.
Karan Thapar: So you think this is clever wit and not derisive jeer.
Digvijaya Singh: Absolutely clever wit and not any jeer against aam aadmi.
Karan Thapar: Is Congress embarrassed at all by the fact that he calls aam aadmi mango people.
Digvijaya Singh: No, aam aadmi is aam aadmi. But how do you say that he has called mango people as aam aadmi.
Karan Thapar: Except for the fact that today, not just Arvind Kejriwal, not just the media, but the Opposition are picking this up and using this against the Congress. Has he given ammunition to the wrong people?
Digvijaya Singh: I say it is clever wit that he has reflected in his statement.
Karan Thapar: Is Sonia Gandhi embarrassed by what his son-in-law has said?
Digvijaya Singh: I don't think so.
Karan Thapar: You don't think so? She actually sees the funny side of mango people.
Digvijaya Singh: One should see the funny side of mango people, the literal translation of aam aadmi. I was amused. I had a good laugh.
Karan Thapar: Is the party as a whole amused?
Digvijaya Singh: No, I don't know about it.
Karan Thapar: The second thing that Robert Vadra said was to call India a banana republic. Now is that how you would characterise the country that your party has governed for so many years?
Digvijaya Singh: No, no, I don't agree on that. India is a very strong, vibrant and thriving democracy.
Karan Thapar: So, banana republic, you now concede, was a mistake.
Digvijaya Singh: I don't think that was correct.
Karan Thapar: That wasn't correct?
Digvijaya Singh: That wasn't correct.
Karan Thapar: Do you think Robert Vadra needs to be more careful about the words he uses?
Digvijaya Singh: Well now I think he will be wiser.
Karan Thapar: Alright, very quickly, I want to come to a statement you made, that you had ample evidence against Vajpayee's son-in-law, against Mr Advani’s children but you weren’t going to make it public, that suggests to me that you are either protecting or covering up for them or you are slyly and cleverly insinuating guilt without evidence. Which is it?
Digvijaya Singh: Karan, let me tell you one thing. I am a politician and I have been in politics for the last 40 years. What my relations do, is not my business. I never ask them. I have got four daughters and four sons-in-law. What they do is not my business.
Karan Thapar: But I am picking up on a slightly different thing. You said to NDTV that you had ample evidence…
Digvijaya Singh: I am coming to that. Not only me, but there were lot of things which came up during the NDA regime but did Congress party ever use that?
Karan Thapar: I concede that the Congress party never used it. But you said you had evidence against Ranjan Bhattacharya. You said you had evidence against Pratibha Advani. Do you have it?
Digvijaya Singh: We will never use this.
Karan Thapar: But you have it?
Digvijaya Singh: I will never use it.
Karan Thapar: You can only use it if you have it. So do you have it?
Digvijaya Singh: If I say that I don’t have it, that is not correct.
Karan Thapar: And this is evidence that you say if used would embarrass Advaniji and Vajpayeeji.
Digvijaya Singh: We will never use it.
Karan Thapar: But would it embarrass Advani sahib and Vajpayee ji?
Digvijaya Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: So this is evidence that would lead to accusations of corruption or wrongdoing against their children?
Digvijaya Singh: You see, you must understand that politicians are humans, we are not gods, but at the same time, we can’t keep a track or check on innumerable relations that we have.
Karan Thapar: But I am repeating my question. You are saying to me that the evidence you have, if made public, could lead to accusations of corruption or wrongdoing against Advani’s children or Vajpayee’s foster son-in-law.
Digvijaya Singh: Could.
Karan Thapar: Could? You mean that?
Digvijaya Singh: Yes.
Karan Thapar: And you are not making it public. So you are covering up.
Digvijaya Singh: There is a whole set of government authority which should look into all these things. We have a Parliament and whole authorities all over. If there are.. these things… they should look into it. Why should I become a complainant?
Karan Thapar: You have no moral qualms about it?
Digvijaya Singh: I have moral qualms for myself. I am not morally responsible for others.
Karan Thapar: Alright, we leave it there but I should warn you this is a very controversial stand you have taken.
Digvijaya Singh: Go ahead.
Karan Thapar: A pleasure talking to you.