By Vijay Darda | 03-05-2016
Their advent into the position of unchallenged power has not changed the ways of the BJP leaders. They still continue to indulge in their old game of levelling allegations against the Congress, and its leadership, notably the Gandhi family. Their latest weapon in this armoury is the AgustaWestland helicopter deal. The sum and substance of all the sound and fury that has been unleashed by the BJP government and its leaders is that huge bribes were paid in this deal, and the recipient of these bribes among others is the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and other bigwigs of the UPA government. This is only through suggestions, for they do not have the character to make this allegation directly. They just want that the Congress president should give the details of the bribe takers ( that is herself), and are clearly forgetting that as the party in power it is their responsibility to conduct a fool proof investigation and come to conclusions based on incontrovertible evidence.
It is also interesting that this is a story that is being retold after 32 years. At that time, the target was the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the issue was the Bofors gun deal. All of us who have lived through such sagas are fully aware that at time Vishwanath Pratap Singh used to repeat a dramatic act at his public meetings. He would take out a piece of paper from his pocket declare that it contains the account number into which the Bofors bribes have been deposited and then announce that once he becomes the prime minister the bribe takers would be punished, and the names revealed. Both Rajiv Gandhi and V P Singh are no more in the world, but we are yet to know the names of the Bofors bribe takers. I would not be surprised if the AgustaWestland story also follows the same path.
Moreover, the BJP cannot derive the same political mileage from this repeat performance. It has already exploited the corruption platform in the 2014 elections to the hilt and failed miserably in fulfilling the lofty promises that brought it to power. The Bofors calumny was used to dethrone Congress, and now defaming Congress cannot cover-up for its failures.
There are strong reasons for coming to this conclusion. The BJP leaders have always maintained that it was the lack of political will on the part of the non-Congress governments that ensured that the ‘real truth’ behind Bofors did not come out. Now no one can accuse prime minister Narendra Modi of lacking in political will, and given the steadfast commitment with which he practices his politics of achieving a “Congress Mukt Bharat” it is doubly surprising that even after two years in power the government has not been able to find the bribe takers in the AgustaWestland deal. This is indeed shocking as the chief of the Indian Air Force at the time of clinching the deal was Air Marshal S P Tyagi who is close to the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who in turn is prime minister Modi’s blue-eyed boy. Tyagi has all the reasons to lead the government to the bribe takers and that should end the matter.
But here comes the fine distinction between the issues and objectives. The issue may be finding the bribe takers, but the objective is to defame the Congress and the Gandhis. The other objective is to paralyse the parliament, especially the Rajya Sabha, where the government lacks a majority and has no hope of reversing the number game in the near future. Any debate in the parliament, especially on the issue of imposing the president’s rule in Uttarakhand, would result in egg on the government’s face. The High Court in Uttarakhand has already set aside the decision to impose president’s rule and this is a big blow to the BJP government.
The specifics of the AgustaWestland case also make an interesting reading. It is almost axiomatic that the Rs 3500 crore deal for the 12 VVIP helicopters would not have been cancelled, if bribes had been paid to political masters to facilitate the deal. No can be naïve enough to suggest that Sonia Gandhi’s hand-picked defence minister A K Antony would act on his own to cancel the deal, order a CBI probe and ED enquiry and approach a court in Milan and proceed against all the bigwigs in the UPA. Such a scenario strains credibility. On the contrary, the Modi government would do well to probe the bureaucrats and officers who cleared the deal. They are the permanent government irrespective of the political dispensation that rules the country. Besides, the process for acquiring these choppers began during the 1998-2004 NDA regime, and should tell us something about our defence preparedness.
Let this not be twisted as an argument in favour of corruption in defence deals. But the fact remains that for all the bad name that was given to the Bofors gun deal, when it came to a crunch at the time of the Kargil war, it was this much maligned gun that fired, and conquered the day for the nation. But the Bofors syndrome continued to haunt the nation’s defence procurement practices. Similarly, for all the noise that the Modi government is making about AgustaWestland, it has brought the company back for its Make in India programme, and also allowed field trial at the vendor’s place ( one of the reasons cited for corruption in the chopper deal).
There is merit and character in the Congress president’s strong rebuttal of these charges. “We have nothing to hide. Let them take my name. I am not afraid of anyone cornering me, as there is no basis to that. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false. Where is the proof? They are lying. This is all a part of their strategy of character assassination, a tactic that they have used against us since the very beginning. The government is there for the last two years. What are they doing? There is already an inquiry, why don’t they go through it? Complete it as soon as possible, impartially.”
The BJP should accept the Congress challenge of completing the probe before the monsoon session of the parliament and stop this campaign. It does more harm than good, and is subject to the law of diminishing returns for the BJP.
Before I conclude…
When chief justice T S Thakur broke down in the prime minister’s presence over the state of affairs of the judiciary, he emotionally and dramatically drew national attention to a major crisis in the country. It is certainly a matter that demands immediate corrective action. The number of judges has to go up at all levels. The infrastructural facilities, the working conditions all have to improve a become world class judiciary. But the judiciary also has to look inwards. How fair is it to continue with the collegium system? Does it not need a regulatory mechanism even if it is operated by retired judges? Let the power of judicial review be absolute, but also put in place something credible that makes the judges accountable.