Faith in the fairness of police investigations is in short supply in India. When prominent persons with political links are interrogated by government agencies, with the probe given publicity through media leaks in the expectation of setting in motion a trial by media in order to influence public perceptions, the question of misuse of governmental authority comes naturally to mind.
The Enforcement Directorate — an investigative agency, like the discredited CBI — questioned Robert Vadra, the husband of recently-appointed AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, for six hours on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
It appears the allegation of money-laundering and the possession of properties in London has been made against Ms Gandhi’s husband. He has denied these allegations in detailed replies and has alleged a “witch-hunt”. The BJP, on the other hand, held a press conference on Wednesday at which it alleged that Mr Vadra made money illegally in petroleum and defence deals when the UPA was in power, and used earnings from these transactions to buy the London properties. The saffron party offered no proof.
It’s not clear if Mr Vadra’s questioning by the ED will end on Thursday. Nor can it be said that the CBI or some other investigative outfit will not issue notices to him after the ED interrogation is over. But what is evident is that India sent no letter rogatory to the British authorities to investigate Mr Vadra’s suspicious dealings, if there were any, in that country. So it’s not clear on what basis the ED is building its case.
It’s a moot point if Mr Vadra would have been of any interest to the ED or any other government agency if he was not married into the country’s most prominent political family, which is ranged against the present ruling setup, and which is seen by the BJP as the real thorn in its side.
The question is apt to be asked if pulling her husband in for questioning is the government’s way of degrading the charismatic Ms Gandhi as an effective election campaigner against the BJP, especially in Uttar Pradesh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency is located.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Mr Modi insinuated grave irregularities against Mr Vadra’s business dealings in Haryana and Rajasthan, with no proof. In 2015, the income-tax authorities showed an interest in Ms Gandhi’s husband when they were investigating another case. The trouble is there was no forward movement in the investigations over the past four years, and matters have come to a head just before the Parliament election. This is the pattern seen in the CBI’s recent enthusiasm in cases relating to Mamata Banerjee and Akhilesh Yadav, and earlier Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mayawati — all prominent Opposition leaders.