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Corporate Oct 11, 2012

Gandhi-DLF link: It all started with Rajiv, not Robert Vadra

By Raman Kirpal

The owners of DLF have strong ties with the Gandhi family that go as far back as 30 years, when Robert Vadra was nowhere in picture.

In fact, DLF owner K P Singh gives Rajiv Gandhi all the credit for reviving DLF and enabling him to create Gurgaon as an international city.

All this finds ample acknowledgement in his autobiography Whatever the Odds: The Incredible Story Behind DLF.

First published in 2011, K P Singh describes how Rajiv Gandhi saved him from inevitable arrest and from his staunch enemy Bansi Lal. Rajiv Gandhi helped change archaic laws and provided the first-ever license to a private realty company (DLF). And the partnershipdidn'tstop.

"I was equally privileged to be a facilitator for numerous other business deals at a time when the Indian economy, under Rajiv Gandhi, was just starting to liberalize and open up to the world. It was like having a front-row seat to an extraordinary event,'' writes K P Singh. He also writes of how he helped to bring GE as the first BPO Company in the country and his role in helping Rajiv Gandhi while drafting the Congress manifesto on urban development in 1991.

Against this backdrop, the allegations of DLF favouring Robert Vadra become even more interesting.

Rajiv Gandhi. Getty Images.

During the summer of 1980, K P Singh recounts, it was a chance encounter with Rajiv Gandhi in a deserted part of rural Haryana near Qutub Minar, when K P Singh had eyed an area of around 40 acres to set up what is now Gurgaon city.

He was chatting with a villager when a speeding jeep screeched to a halt nearby. Rajiv Gandhi, who was driving the jeep, emerged from the vehicle and asked if he could get a can of water as his engine was overheating. Rajiv Gandhi had just given up his pilot job with the Indian Airlines and had taken his 'first hesitant steps' into politics after the death of his brother Sanjay Gandhi.

Rajiv Gandhi, who often used to take this route to visit his Meharauli farmhouse, asked Singh what he was doing in such a desolate place at the height of summer. Then Singh told him all about his vision of Gurgaon as the international city and how the government laws are not helping him to create this city and not providing private developers a level playing field.

K P Singh writes: "He (Rajiv Gandhi) became interested and pressed me on the issue. What is holding it up and why don't you do it, Rajiv asked.''

"At that time, DLF had no money or business worth talking about. Banks were forbidden to give loans to purchase land. There was no such thing as housing loans. The only capital that DLF had was my optimism and determination to revive the company and make it a real estate giant. Rajiv sensed that... In fact, it was this one incident that was to transform Gurgaon from a rural wilderness into an international city,'' Singh says in his book.

Rajiv Gandhi and Singh sat there for an hour and half, "in the middle of nowhere, engaged in detailed discussions about the idea of creating an integrated, world-class township in Gurgaon".

Rajiv Gandhi then asked Singh to make a presentation on Gurgaon before Arun Singh and him at his Delhi office. A string of meetings followed. The final consensus was that Gurgaon should become a model city through substantial private sector development. At the same time, it was decided, that while licences will be granted to the developers, they would have to make sure that the weaker sections of the society benefited from the project.

The policy was changed and the first licence to DLF was issued in April 1981 to develop 39.34 acres.

Later in 1984, Rajiv Gandhi had also rescued K P Singh from arrest. "In February 1983, DLF had secured licences to develop a total of 556 acres. Evidently, the progress that DLF was making was not to Bansi Lal's liking and he got some serving bureaucrats loyal to him to issue a notification by the state government to acquire land around the areas that DLF was developing. The idea was to prevent us from acquiring contiguous land,'' Singh recollects in the book.

Singh then met many bureaucrats and politicians. He told them that the entire background, including the fact that the Gurgaon Township projects had the approval of Rajiv Gandhi. In his presentation to the Haryana government, Singh wrote that the action of the chief minister (Bansi Lal) in cancelling DLF's licences was akin to a rampaging bull in a china shop.

Singh writes: "Bansi Lal got even more furious. I was told later that he had ordered his officials to demonstrate just what kind of a bull he was!''

Again, Singh went to Rajiv Gandhi, who was now the Prime Minister.

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by Raman Kirpal

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