Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s portrayal of Robert Vadra as a small farmer will cut no ice with the public

In his interview to The Hindu (“Robert Vadra is a small farmer”, August 27) Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has come out to stoutly defend Robert Vadra’s land deals and his government’s handling of the entire matter. He has, however, done so in a manner that would no doubt have left Mr. Vadra and his wife’s family thinking of the adage: I can deal with my enemies, God save me from my friends.

Mr. Hooda called Mr. Vadra a decent man. At issue is not if Mr. Vadra is a decent husband, son, son-in-law, brother-in-law, father or friend. That is part of his private life and that of his family and friends. The question is also not if he is generally a good and decent businessman. The question is if he did the decent thing in entering into the land transaction in which he is alleged to have made many crores of rupees.

Mr. Hooda and many Congressmen say that Mr. Vadra is being singled out only because he is Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law. This is entirely true. The fact is that the professional or business dealings of close relatives of those in high places attract more attention and are minutely scrutinised, and the higher the office the greater the scrutiny. This is something that the relatives of public persons have to accept.

Who is a farmer?

Let us take Mr. Hooda’s defence of Mr. Vadra, that as a farmer he took advantage, like many other small farmers, to sell his land at a premium. Mr. Vadra may have technically and legally acquired the status of a farmer by acquiring agricultural land but in reality does he himself or the public at large consider him a farmer? Who in the public perception is a farmer? It requires no measure of research to ascertain what is obvious. A person who has never lived on a farm, and does not earn his livelihood from agriculture cannot be considered a farmer.

In using this defence Mr. Hooda has also overlooked the powerful and evocative social and historical imagery associated with the term: that of a poor and hardworking individual who is barely able to eke out a living in the face of manifold adversities. He has also given a go by to the close linkage of the Congress with the small farmer from the time, almost a century ago, when the Mahatma travelled to Champaran. The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru’s leadership took the lead in the abolition of zamindari in the cause of the small farmer.

It is right to frame a policy to benefit small farmers so that they do not lose out in the windfall gains made by corporations and the rich and the powerful in the urbanisation process under way in the country. However, should such a policy be used by those who only temporarily acquire agriculture land for what are clearly business purposes?

In fact in this case it would seem that the true “farmers” today are the builders who “farm out” the job of securing conversions of agricultural land for commercial activities to those can secure such permissions.

The dictionary meaning of “farm out” is “to send out or subcontract work to other people”. Mr. Hooda will do well to ponder over such lucrative farming enterprises.

There are courts of law and the court of public opinion. In the latter it is the public which is both judge and jury. The public has an innate understanding and cannot be fooled. It may appreciate the efforts of the Congress to ensure food security for the poor but it would hardly accept Mr. Vadra to be a small farmer.

(Vivek Katju is a former Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan and Myanmar.)

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