PEOPLE / RAJINDER VADRA
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He's got the brass Rajinder Vadra is making the most of his 15 minutes in the sun. In the 72 hours following reports that brought the public notice issued by son Robert against him onto the front pages of newspapers, Priyanka Gandhi's father-in-law has been impressively alternating his exasperating moments of hide-and-seek with the media with sessions of expansive interviews. Fortunately, this is the expansive interview moment. 'My son is talking about disowning me now, but I disowned him when he married into that family,' says Vadra, who isn't about to play any aggrieved dad role. 'They've flung mud on me... now I'll fling it back.' Despite his soft-spokenness, Vadra likes being loud. In everything, right from his clothes - a flashy blue tie decorated with gold crescents and glittering stars; to his cellphone - a dinky little brilliant silver gizmo that looks straight out of Star Trek; to his statements - 'I'm not afraid of anybody, Kashmiri militants or Italian militants; or 'If I am killed, three people will be responsible: Sonia Gandhi, Robert Vadra and Priyanka Gandhi.' Despite the bombast, when talking about family ties, Vadra's favourite word seems to be 'perfect'. His relations with son Robert were 'perfect' till the public notice; ditto for his relations with Priyanka and Sonia Gandhi; and for that matter the rest of his family. The word doesn't quite ring true given the fact that he has been separated from his family for the last two years. His wife and son Richard live in New Friends Colony. 'The separation was a personal matter, but we were a very happy family...though over these last two years I have had little to do with them.' Last April, when his daughter, jewellery designer Michelle Vadra, died in a car accident, the family came together briefly. Vadra, continuing with his description of the family, says that when Priyanka and Robert were courting, she would often visit the happy family. 'So she knew how we lived, in a disciplined way, but were a very liberal family with Robert's mother being Christian and me a Punjabi. It was a great environment,' he says. Strangely enough, the 'great environment' fostered much bitterness. That there is little love lost between father and at least one of his sons came through in last week's notice and Vadra Sr's subsequent disparaging comments about Robert. 'As a father, I'm shocked by what he says... but now he has become a pawn in the hands of the Gandhi family,' says Vadra, describing his reaction to the announcement. In the public notice he issued last week, Robert stated that 'one Rajinder Vadra and another Richard Vadra' were duping people by 'promising jobs and other favours.' He went on to add that the two were not authorised to use his name. More importantly, they had 'no access to him.' Some of the 'jobs and favours' included pushing candidates for various posts in the Moradabad Pradesh Congress Committee. One Congress leader also spoke about a recent visit Rajinder Vadra paid to his office. When Vadra sent in his visiting card, he had pencilled 'father-in-law of Priyanka' on it in bold letters. Vadra Sr rubbishes all the allegations. 'I have challenged them to provide one witness who will say that I gave him a job or that I cheated him. It's all nonsense.' He also dismisses talk that the Congress is uncomfortable about the Vadra family's RSS links. 'I have no political affiliations,' he says. It is a little more difficult, however, to explain the donation of a school which is located on the Vadra family farm on the outskirts of Moradabad. Rajinder Vadra's elder brother, Om Prakash Vadra, had donated the school to the RSS in 1995. Om Prakash remains the school chairman for life. 'It [the donation of the school] should not be seen as a political move. My elder brother donated the property after his sons died prematurely in an accident,' says Vadra. Explaining the timing of the notice issued on Robert Vadra's behalf by advocate Arun Bhardwaj, a senior Congress leader said, the idea behind the publication of the notice was 'to nip mischief in the bud.' Given the coming UP elections, the Congress would have found it difficult to explain the Vadra family's links with the RSS. The small terrace of Rajinder Vadra's Amar Colony office looks out onto the by-lanes of this commercial area crammed with telephone fax booths and rows of garment shops. A few chairs have been lined up along one side of the terrace, which leads into a room, presumably the office, the door of which is kept discreetly closed. 'I was always against the marriage [of Robert and Priyanka] because of the way the family treated Maneka Gandhi... imagine throwing out a woman like that. I was also against it because the Gandhi family was involved in the Bofors scandal. But the rest of the family wanted the limelight, so I had to give in,' says Vadra, who doesn't quite describe his family with the warmth of a happy patriarch. Vadra, who divides his time between his Amar Colony office and his home in upmarket Chhatarpur, an area on the southern outskirts of Delhi famous for its sprawling farmhouses, says that he always believed in leading 'a very simple' life. 'I work the whole day,' - he runs a brass and wood handicrafts business - 'and in the evenings after a couple of drinks, I go to bed.' However, with the publication of the notice, 'things have changed.' He says that after he began speaking to the media, he has received threats. He describes the most recent: 'When I went out on my morning walk, a man dressed in a long coat signalled to me from across the road. I looked around the road wonderingly. 'You, you... I'm calling you,' said the man. He then waited for me to go across, before walking past me. And as he went by, he opened the flap of his coat, and there was this very long gun tucked in there, the kind of gun that I had never seen before... it might have been an AK-47. He then dropped the coat close (sic) and walked on.' And if that sounds like a threat straight out of Bollywood's badlands, Vadra's dramatic narration makes it even more fantastic. His friends and advocate are talking about police protection. But Vadra remains unfazed, busy planning a great vendetta. Which he isn't ready to talk about just now. 'You just wait and watch,' he promises deliciously.