The real villains in l’affaire Vadra are Salman Khurshid and Veerappa Moily and their ilk who, between 2004 and till now, held the post of Minister for Corporate Affairs.
Critics have been rather harsh on Robert Vadra over his somewhat unfortunate reference to the common folks like you and me, as ‘mango people’ in that famous ‘Facebook’ posting of his. He is not to be blamed at all. The fault lies with all those politicians who came on television talk shows in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Lok Sabha election to analyse the defeat of the NDA in power.
If you recall the discussion, they kept insisting that the only reason the NDA lost the election was because it did not look after the ‘aam aadmi' during its rule. The phrase caught on; even politicians with an educational upbringing — embellished by stints at the hallowed portals of Oxford and Cambridge — were so taken up with it that they used it more often than their counterparts who cut their electoral teeth in the hurly burly of Gangetic Valley politics of UP and Bihar.
In no time, the term, ‘aam aadmi’ became so universally recognised — not just in the political discourse of the nation but elsewhere too — that the people putting out the Concise Oxford Dictionary would have had a hard time not recognising it as part of the English language, should there have been a demand for its inclusion.
And of course, Pepsi too must share a portion of the blame for giving the ‘aam’ its place in the centre stage of the collective Indian psyche. Remember its first campaign during the launch of the mango drink, ‘Slice’?
The tagline of the campaign exhorted, yes, you guessed it, ‘aam aadmi’ to Maango more Mango — a clever juxtaposition of the Hindi word for ‘to demand’ (Maango) and mango. Katrina Kaif spoke of ‘Aam Sutra’ to promote Pepsi’s mango drink.
Poor Vadra is, after all, from the land of ‘Dusseri’ mangoes, having been brought up in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. With all this talk about ‘aam’ sloshing about in everybody’s minds, is it any wonder that mango was the first thing that struck him when he thought of ‘aam aadmi’?
Let’s now turn to his real-estate deals with DLF, Haryana and Rajasthan Governments. Here too, the real villains are Salman Khurshid and Veerappa Moily and their ilk who, between 2004 and till now, held the post of Minister for Corporate Affairs. This becomes clear if we understand the nature of the evidence of his impropriety that is being presented to the ‘mango men’ — Sorry, ‘aam aadmi’.
Now, let’s see, what is he being accused of? That a company floated by him, of which he is the dominant shareholder by a long chalk, took some loans from a bank or some individual, it is still not clear who or from where. The company then used it to buy a few apartment units in some posh upmarket residential locality and, then, later sold it back to the same real estate promoter from whom he purchased it in the first place, at vastly inflated prices.
Armed with this new-found pool of additional cash, he went ahead and bought some land in Rajasthan and Haryana on behalf of another company, again largely owned and controlled by him.
Television channels and newspapers were copiously quoting extracts from copies of balance-sheets and profit-and-loss accounts of these two companies as evidence of his complicity in murky speculations in real estate. How did so many journalists in print, television and, of course, the blogsphere get hold of those documents? Why, from the Web site of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs of course!
This is where the culpability of the ministers in charge of that ministry comes into focus. Things were a lot simpler at the offices of the Registrar of Companies — the official custodians of corporate documents — back in the days when papers ruled the roost. Suppose, you don’t want some busybody snooping around your corporate documents, all that you needed to do was to take good care of the record clerk in charge of the company filings in the only way that he would understand. He would put such an airtight seal on those documents that designers at Tupperware would be willing to give an arm and a leg for obtaining the process know-how.
An enigmatic site
It was too good to last. Computers had to come in ostensibly for freer access to these documents. The key word is ‘ostensibly’. Where successive ministers have goofed up is in believing that they have erected barriers of sufficient strength to prevent easy access to documents which, it now transpires, are not so insurmountable after all.
Unlike other Web sites which help registered users to easily navigate to the section where they can register, the one at the MCA is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. There is a place on the home page which identifies itself as MCA 21. You might think that this is where you would click for online reservation of a table at some upmarket night club in New Delhi (remember Studio 21 in New York?), but never would you guess this to be the place for accessing corporate documents.
But if you did penetrate the initial haze and actually get into the process of registration, a more strenuous test awaits you. The user name requirement on the system wants you to sport one that has letters in lower case and upper case plus numerals in combination.
The idea, I suppose, is that even if you successfully negotiate the thicket that the MCA has created in your path, the first time around, you are apt to forget it the next time. As an added precaution, it has thrown in the requirement that the password must possess some special characters as well, besides the combination of lower, upper case letters and numerals. You need a password management app downloaded on your mobile if you want to progress further.
Anything is possible
That the MCA has gone to such lengths to protect me from would-be hackers when they wouldn’t find even my bank account to be such an inviting prospect, must mean only one thing. It doesn’t want me to poke my nose into the contents of the corporate database with them. The real clincher is this.
If my investigative journalistic forays do not require me to raid the MCA Web site for two months, the registration would have expired and I would have to go through the motions all over again. Bhojaraja, King of Ujjain, had a fair easier passage ascending the throne of King Vikramaditya.
So the mandarins at the MCA and their political masters thought that they had had the public stumped. But as events in the Robert Vadra case has shown, they have failed miserably in their task.
So if Vadra has any influence with his mother-in-law (and I am presuming she, in turn, has influence with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in altering the latter’s ministerial composition), he should ask for the heads of all those who had at various times headed the MCA for their sheer incompetence.
If all this sounds like the ‘zero loss theory’ defence mounted by Kapil Sibal on 2G spectrum allocations or the one mounted by Chidambaram on allocations of coal blocks, go ahead and put my name up for the next year's Nobel Prize in Economics. EU has just won the prize for keeping the peace in Europe and elsewhere. Anything is possible.