The much awaited induction of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra into the Congress fold, as an office bearer, has forced the grand old party to publicly defend her husband, Robert Vadra, who on earlier occasions had been described as “a private citizen”. Priyanka, while proceeding to the AICC office to take charge of her new assignment as General Secretary, Uttar Pradesh (East), first halted en route to drop her husband off at the Enforcement Directorate’s office while passionately expressing that she would stand by him since he was “her family”.
The message that went out loud and clear was that the Congress would no longer consider Robert Vadra as a private entity, but now would “institutionally” come to his aid. Consequently, on every TV channel, party spokespersons took up a position describing the allegations against Vadra as nothing but “pure political vendetta”. Although the government agency has not been able to conclusively establish a link between the properties supposedly purchased by him in Central London, yet the Congress finds itself thick in the case.
Obviously, Robert Vadra is being defended by an extremely competent team of lawyers, and he has sufficient resources to prove his innocence if the proceedings against him are not consistent with the tenets of law. He is an individual who is entitled to pursue his businesses under the established norms and it is for him to refute any kind of mala fide accusations against him. However, by coming to his assistance, the Congress party, which lost power in 2014 on the issue of corruption, appears to have mindlessly gotten embroiled in a mess that could, once again, create public perception against it.
The ED has already stated that Vadra was not cooperating with them fully and thus needed to be grilled till he furnishes them with substantial information on the acquisition of exorbitantly expensive properties in the heart of the British capital. Therefore, the ED is bound to summon him for questioning at repeated intervals, and each time this happens, the Congress would be obliged to take up cudgels on his behalf, since the matter would dominate TV headlines. In plain speak, other matters raised by the party high command would be overshadowed by the visuals of spokespersons defending Vadra, thereby creating an impression that could electorally hurt the Congress in this politically fertile period.
Priyanka was absolutely justified when as a wife she extended her support to her husband. However, the new hat of public life, which she has donned, does not necessitate that her party takes up a similar stand as well. There is no denying that ever since coming to power, the BJP has not been able to establish any allegation of corruption against the Congress top leadership in a court of law. Certain cases are pending, but no verdict has yet been given. Vadra, being a businessman, is a vulnerable target, and as a consequence his name has figured in several instances, ranging from purchase and sale of property in both Haryana and Rajasthan as well.
Therefore, till the time the investigating agencies lay their hands on “clinching evidence to link him to wrongdoings”, the ruling dispensation would use the issue to generate negative public opinion. The BJP is fully aware that in politics, many a time, perception supersedes reality. In the past, multiple polls have been lost due to the impression that was created. In 1989, the Bofors issue rattled the Congress as it crashed to less than half the numbers it had obtained in the 1984 parliamentary elections. A popular and affable Prime Minister like Rajiv Gandhi was unable to counter the canards that were spread about him, his family and associates.
Similarly, after 2009, the Congress was riding high when a carefully planned tirade linking its government to several scams in general and the 2G scam in particular, commenced its downhill journey. Although in a court of law, subsequently, the 2G matter was unable to stand up to legal scrutiny, it did enough damage to the UPA electorally, with the Congress managing to win merely 44 seats in the last Lok Sabha polls.
The Congress, as an organisation, has to take stock of the fact that there are certain issues that can derail its own agenda. Rahul Gandhi, during the past couple of years, has worked extremely hard to bring the party back on the centre stage. Despite being ridiculed, over and over again, he has survived the saffron onslaught, and is now viewed as a serious player in the electoral arena. He has been raising issues which have the capacity of touching a chord amongst a sizable section of the population. There are politically relevant subjects such as unemployment, agrarian distress and rampant corruption that require attention on the eve of a significant election. The Congress has to formulate its last minute strategies, keeping in mind what can assist in reaping political dividends.
The party, which has been on the back-foot, has to finalise its candidates and its game-plan to take on the BJP head-on, especially in states where it is pitted directly against the Sangh outfits. It can ill-afford to allow the focus to shift from its attack on the NDA, especially since it knows that it has to face an opponent as politically astute as the Prime Minister himself.
Therefore, the Congress must get its priorities right. Defending Vadra at the expense of a productive political agenda would prove to be suicidal. Perception prevails. Between us.