Wednesday, March 29th, 2023 12:04:07

The Jamai Babus The Privileged, Protected Species

Updated: September 21, 2013 12:48 pm

He is referred to as the sarkari jamai babu. He is a privileged and highly protected person, akin to a VVIP, he can go through the International Airport without a glance at the simply because Robert Vadra is married to Priyanka Gandhi, daughter to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi.

He was then an anonymous figure but gained notoriety when soon after his father died in his hotel room, his brother commit suicide and his sister died in a car accident. From then on it was easy for his critics to dig out more dirt on him from his past.

He got enmeshed in controversies. From a small brass and wood handicrafts business in his city Moradabad estimated to be around Rs 10 lakhs, he reportedly rose in no time to become a billionaire a few times over. People were excited to hear stories of his exploits and his money making wizardry. The critics of the Gandhis hurled such stories of corruption at them. The Gandhis lost their Teflon Touch.

Civil society activist Arvind Kejriwal raised questions over the rise in his fortune. In his account on Twitter, Kejriwal tweeted, “Evidence pouring in from mango men from across the country. Mango men would prove to be nemesis for the powerful.”

Earlier Vadra annoyed at persistent tales of corruption dismissed the accusers in Facebook by describing them as “mango people in a banana republic”. But in fact the veracity of balance-sheets of Vadra-owned companies, which claim to have received an overdraft of 7.94 crores from Corporation Bank was said to be not true. Corporation Bank later denied ever providing an overdraft facility to that amount. But there are hardly takers to such denial.

In response to the alleged DLF-Vadra controversy, the entire Congress came out to defend Vadra. After a few days when another controversy about the alleged financial irregularity in an NGO run by Congressmen and then-law minister Salman Khurshid broke out, Rajdeep Sardesai had tweeted:

“Irony: when law minister was in dock, no UPA minister there to defend him. When Vadra in dock, cabinet ministers line up to defend.”

The protective shield that has so far him from all charges is because his being son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi. In fact, he has protection which is far more than any minister. At airports here, he is not frisked or frisked by the security. He can walk straight to the aircraft. All this because of his being a sarkari jamai. Yashwant Sinha described his alleged billions, “crores of rupees being made without investing any money”.

In India, the tribe of sons-in-laws are variously called jamai babu, pahun, mehman and damaad babu and by many other titles. They have a special and most privileged position in an Indian traditional family. Thus there is no surprise that they sometime end up taking advantage of the position, wealth or power of their in-laws. These advantaged sons-in-laws are now a growing species and occupy special positions in society. They do not mind being derided and joked about, for they have the last laugh when they look at their pass books.

Most also know that they are beyond law even if their father-in-law loses power. For those who succeed another generally have a son-in-law of their own. When Atal Behari Vajpayee lost election, no action any inquiry made. When the deeds (or alleged misdeed) were published on the front page of a daily, no debate took place in Parliament. As far as memory goes, Sushma Swaraj said that nothing mentioned about family members of any political family.

Possibly, the BJP was restrained because of Ranjan Bhattacharya, foster son-in-law of Vajpayee. He was allegedly involved in getting deals through. Any comparison of his assets, Vadra would see the latter quite ahead. Moreover lands in Haryana and Noida are very expensive.

No wonder a joke was circulating that Gurgaon has been renamed as Jamai-ka. The fact is polity and society in general has become more materialistic. There was one famous son-in-law of Jawharlal Nehru—ironically of the same family as Vadra belongs to. Feroze Gandhi, son-in-law of Jawaharlal Nehru and who was MP from Rae Bareli and never took advantage of his relationship (instead attacked the government and brought out cases of corruption).

But since then it has mostly been a case of ambitious sons-in-laws who have been unscrupulously gaining financial as well as political benefits, not as a result of talent or hard work, but simply because of their association with a powerful family.

Occasionally, the jamai babus of public figures like Vadra become the cause celebre for the opposition to try stick the charge of corruption and favouritism and unlawful protection to the in-law for their jamai babus. Vadra became a household name, at least in urban areas because of new exposure of alleged shady deals in Haryana and the uproar in the recent session of Parliament.

As for Vadra he remains undaunted, another hallmark of such sons-in-laws. They hear no evil, see no evil, he can be seen on his routine cycling, jogging and is surrounded by socialites the moment he steps in at any social function.

There are several other jamai babus or damaad sahib who have done well through their influential in-laws. Sucharita Sengupta of the political science department at Jamia Millia university was quoted saying, “The problem lies not with being a son-in-law, but with the stature and moral convictions of the individual. Gurunath Meiyappan, who earned infamy during exposures of IPL scandals, met his wife Rupa through their common love for the game of golf. They married in 2001. Grandson of the legendary A.V. Meiyappan (of the AVM film banner, one of the few large studios still running in Tamil Nadu), Meiyappan Jr had little interest in movies, go-karting and golf being more his passions. His IPL ties came after father-in-law, BCCI chief N. Srinivasan, made him boss of his team Chennai Super Kings to avoid a conflict of interest issue. Meiyappan found himself in a spot for betting on matches (and possibly ‘fixing’ too), and was arrested and charged with gambling and cheating.

Unfortunately, he’s not only the latest to join the problematic ‘damaad’ group that has plagued Indian politics and business of late. The jack-in-the-box, the odd ball, the outsider straining at the leash, the sons-in-law come with a lot of baggage.

Again, in early 2011, Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s (RLD) son-in-law Vikramaditya Singh was indicted by an American court after he was caught in a federal sting operation.

The other son-in-law in privileged position is that of Sharad Pawar. He is married to Pawar’s daughter Sule, MP. His business has grown tremendously. Another, Alhiban Bose, who still enjoys the protection of his father-in-law K. Karunanidhi although his marriage with Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozi, MP, was over quite some time ago.

The daughter of the late Y.S. Rajashekharnan, who was chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, is married to Anil Kumar who enjoys his relationship with the most powerful family in his state.

Why are Jamais so favoured? Sociologist Dipankar Gupta was cited saying, “Generally in Indian society, the son-in-law who lives off his father-in-law’s name is seen as a bit of a loser. Historically, there exists a bit of a kanya-daan complex in the Hindu tradition, where the bride taker is superior to the bride giver, so when this power equation is somewhat reversed, it is looked down upon.”

BJP national spokesperson Prakash Javadekar put it candidly, “Har damaad ki ek hi aas, Srinivasan jaisa sasur or Sonia Gandhi jaisi saas (It’s every son-in-law’s wish, a father-in-law like Srinivasan and a mother-in-law like Mrs Gandhi).”

Adman and social commentator Santosh Desai added some more to the mix, “In India, sons-in-law enjoy a strange privilege. Once a son-in-law decides to use the affiliation and advantage that he’s got by marriage and taken advantage of the power structure, the wife’s family does not know how to deal with it. They cannot control him, and they have to respect him…because that’s what we do in the traditional family system. A son-in-law is a piece that doesn’t fit.”

But even with all this, the troublesome son-in-law remains a protected family member, always seeming to get away free. As a defiant Srinivasan remarked when his son-in law was arrested, “When Delhi’s son-in-law is safe (Robert Vadra), then why should I worry about my son-in-law.” Indeed, why should he?

The custom of kanya-daan or a materialistic polity, whatever be the reason, the tribe of protected jamais is growing. And it might become in time a separate Backward caste, with a huge number of laws to protect them.

So please note: Jamai babu is a protected species soon to become a privileged caste.

By Vijay Dutt

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