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BJP and Congress lick Vadra wounds

New Delhi, Oct. 8: The responses of the Congress and the BJP to allegations against Robert Vadra have drawn fire from within and without for starkly divergent reasons.

In the BJP, Arvind Kejriwal’s charges against Vadra seem to have stoked internal conflicts and created a collateral target in cyberspace: Sushma Swaraj.

Pro-BJP tweeters have ripped into Sushma following suggestions that she had nixed a political campaign in March against Vadra’s deals.

This, at a time party rivals of Prem Kumar Dhumal, the BJP chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, are questioning his “soft” attitude towards Priyanka Vadra in relation to a property in the hill state.

The murmurs against Sushma have been audible since March, when a newspaper carried a report on Vadra’s transactions with realty major DLF but the Lok sabha Opposition leader apparently advised her party to observe restraint.

Now the critical voices are bubbling over on Sushma’s Twitter account following Kejriwal’s “disclosures”. (See chart)

BJP sources said that even now, party leaders were unwilling to go the whole hog on Vadra for fear that the offensive might boomerang.

A BJP source explained: “There’s a pattern in the Congress’s strategy. Each time we flag a corruption charge, they retaliate with equal fierceness. The Congress has used Nitin Gadkari (BJP president) as a punching bag. So we have to watch our steps.”

After the March report in a daily, the BJP core committee had discussed whether it should flag the Vadra issue in Parliament, where the budget session was under way.

Sushma and former party president Rajnath Singh felt it was “not a good form of politics” to pick on family members of political leaders, and that more evidence was needed before going ballistic, anyway.

Sushma then told the media: “The matter is a serious one and the party is gathering documents to raise it with the prominence it deserves.”

She and her Rajya Sabha counterpart, Arun Jaitley, permitted Jharkhand MP Nishikant Dubey to raise the matter in the Lok Sabha. But, Dubey said, the Speaker did not allow him to and he didn’t pursue the matter. Nothing more was heard on Vadra from the BJP.

The BJP’s greatest concern now is that Kejriwal, who claims the BJP and the Congress are “bhai-bhai” in duping people by allowing power tariff hikes in Delhi, has again stolen a march on it over corruption issues.

If the BJP is facing barbs about going soft on Vadra, the Congress is having to explain its aggressive defence of him.

Several Congress leaders have said in private that the parade of senior ministers to defend Vadra should have been avoided as he neither holds any government post nor is a primary member of the party.

When Kejriwal levelled the charges on Friday, Congress ministers vied with one another to speak out in defence of Vadra. The scramble created an impression that Sonia Gandhi had let loose the warhorses to defend her son-in-law.

“As far as the government and the party are concerned, Vadra is a private individual. Some of the ministers who defended him stressed this point. Then it raises the question why ministers are going out of their way to defend an individual who can speak up for himself,” a Congress leader asked.

Realising the folly, the Congress appears to have changed its strategy today.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said: “It was not an attack on an individual. It was a conspiracy against the Congress leadership.”

Many leaders claimed that Vadra was not the target. One AICC functionary said: “The aim is to block the government’s march towards greater stability and the effort to show some constructive work.”

Whether to divert attention from Sonia’s family or not, the Congress has now decided not to get bogged down in the details of Vadra’s business deals. Both Vadra and DLF have denied the allegations.

P. Chidambaram’s measured response today has been appreciated by the party. The finance minister did not appear to be going out of his way to defend Vadra but managed to put things in perspective by saying a specific instance of “quid pro quo” was needed for a probe.

“Unless there is a specific allegation of quid pro quo or corruption, I am afraid, private transactions cannot and ought not to be allowed to be questioned on the basis of imputations and insinuations,” Chidambaram said.

Kejriwal has promised to disclose tomorrow the alleged favours granted to DLF. “DLF granted favours to Robert Vadra. What favours did Haryana Govt grant DLF? How is DLF reply a bunch of lies? Will speak tomorrow at 5pm,” Kejriwal tweeted.