After social activist Arvind Kejriwal’s frontal attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law on Tuesday — televised live on most channels — the party has decided to distance itself from the matter, reversing an earlier decision of full-throated defence of Robert Vadra. Even though this was the second verbal assault on Mr. Vadra in five days, party members at the Congress headquarters were taken by surprise at the ferocity of Mr. Kejriwal’s accusations that forced even the principal opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party to shed its ambivalence on the issue.

Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi’s responses to questions posed by journalists were feeble: questioning the veracity of the documents that Mr. Kejriwal had produced, he sought to dismiss him as a publicity-seeker. Mr. Alvi once again repeated that he could always go to court if he had anything substantial against Mr. Vadra. Asked whether a defamation suit was in the offing, he dodged the question, instead saying that if any questions needed to be responded to, the Haryana government would do so: on Tuesday, Mr. Kejriwal had focussed on the nexus between the Haryana government and real estate giant DLF and the business dealings between the realty major and Mr Vadra.

For the Congress, the attack on Mr. Vadra is of great concern: a party functionary said, “When the first charges of corruption came in two years ago, we said those responsible were our allies. When Coalgate happened, we said it was the government. Now this has brought the charges right to 10, Janpath.” He said it mattered very little whether the charges against Mr. Vadra were ever proved: “In politics, it is not legality, it is perception.”

In fact, there was a sense on Tuesday at the party headquarters that Congress leaders should not have gone out on a limb for Mr. Vadra last Friday, when a host of Ministers and party spokespersons outdid each other defending him.

Indeed, as the Congress hunted for a way out, party sources said the focus could shift to Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Hooda, already under fire for the deteriorating law and order situation in the State. On Tuesday morning, Ms. Gandhi, accompanied by Mr. Hooda and several senior leaders, went to Jind to meet Dalit rape victims. Thereafter, Mr. Hooda came back to Delhi and had a meeting with Ms. Gandhi at 10, Janpath. With Mr. Kejriwal targeting Mr. Hooda for the manner in which his government allocated land and demanding his resignation, the Haryana Chief Minister’s many detractors in the party will get strength, Congress sources have added.

Of course, the Haryana government was quick to respond to Mr. Kejriwal’s accusations, saying no favour was granted to DLF.

“All permissions have been given according to rules. No land has been released in the last 10 years. No favour has been granted to DLF,” a State government spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Union Corporate Affairs Minister M. Veerappa Moily sought to give a clean chit to the business deals between Mr. Vadra and DLF: “We have verified the accounts of the six companies [where Mr Vadra has a stake], and no violations or irregularities are found under the Companies Act,” he told journalists after the Economic Editors’ Conference here, adding that there was “no question of an investigation” as there was no violation.

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