Monday, 20 June 2011

Will Sonia trump Saint Antony? (Sunday Guardian)

M D Nalapat

t was Pramod Mahajan who came up with the concept of "India Shining". And in his case, such a claim was certainly true. From a lower-middle class background, the BJP's Mr Fix-it entered the higher rungs of the economic elite. Of course, because of the need to pretend that he was still penurious by the standards of his business friends, a lot of such wealth would have been distributed amongst various names. Some claim that the marital adventures of his only son was motivated more by a desire to husband the wealth left behind by Mahajan than by romance, although this is something that is difficult to prove, and may indeed be wrong. The lady in question was admittedly a charmer, as the Mahajan family well knew.
Decades ago, during 1977-78, when Indira Gandhi was out of office and needing vast amounts of money for her political comeback, the oxygen for her return was provided by D. Devaraj Urs, the urbane Chief Minister of Karnataka. Urs took care of her needs almost as comprehensively as another Karnataka CM, Ramakrishna Hegde, ministered to V.P. Singh.
After all, it needs to be remembered that just as it took a lot of money to keep M.K. Gandhi in poverty, it takes a lot of cash to run a noticeable anti-corruption campaign.
V.P. Singh had to travel across the country in his campaign against then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on the issue of Bofors, of course together with his retinue. Much of the oxygen for the new Janata formation was provided by Hegde. However, that did not save him from having to resign on the grounds that he had ordered a few phone taps. What a difference from today, when tens of thousands of unauthorised taps are carried out (some of which leak to the media) without any call for resignation as a result.

Of course, more than the phone taps, it was the fact that V.P. Singh was wary of him, knowing that Hegde would be a strong contender in case the Janata formation came to power in the 1989 elections. Singh did not want to do the work of building up an anti-Rajiv wave and then step aside while Hegde got the benefit. He manoeuvred the exit of the very CM who had given him oxygen.
But returning to Devaraj Urs, clearly Indira Gandhi's needs were greater than the willingness of Urs to supply them, for he left her along with current Defence Minister A.K. Antony and formed a new party within 15 months of the 1977 Congress defeat. Clearly a case of bad timing, for Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, while Urs lost Karnataka to her new party. Urs had to ensure the humiliation of watching his old job go to Ramrao Gundu Rao, a politician whose one asset was his loyalty to the Nehru family, and who had been treated with condescension and more than a modicum of contempt by Urs, who did not live to see Rao's 1983 downfall, having "shuffled off his mortal coils" the previous year. Interestingly, in the case of Urs too, his immediate family was unable to locate almost any of the numerous names with whom he had banked his assets, thereby forgoing the chance for great wealth. Say this for Mayawati, she is not a hypocrite. She has made a lot of money, and is not afraid to show it.
er recorded assets (although likely to contain a few omissions caused by lapses in memory) are far higher than for the chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, who seems to have only as much savings as an honest lower division clerk in North Block. Poor Mrs Gandhi has no vehicle, and very little in her bank account. Perhaps she does not even own an air-conditioner or that requisite of modern living, a television. Certainly the same have not been recorded in her detailed statement of assets. Judging by her returns, she is almost as poor as A.K. Antony, who has for two decades maintained his family through the (not very impressive) income of his faithful spouse. Indeed, going by the record, she seems almost penurious compared to her sister-in-law Maneka Gandhi and her son Varun, despite having practically run the government since 2004.
Although there have been stories to the effect that Sonia Gandhi's two sisters have been the nominal beneficiaries of substantial assets, the total absence of information about them in the international media makes it difficult to come to a conclusion about such rumours. It would be best if Sonia herself were to reveal the full details about the income and assets of her sisters. If they are as poverty-stricken as she herself seems to be, then it will be clear that in Sonia Gandhi, Saint Antony has met his match!

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