We have this habit of jumping the gun. Yesterday, when the story about the helicopter deal scam first broke, our over-zealous TV anchors (one in particular!) immediately put up a panel of UPA bashers and all but declared the PM, the Defence Minister and all who matter in the UPA guilty. Today, as the issues are becoming more clear (why does Indian media not demonstrate a little patience?), it must be worrying to the BJP that their attacks on the Congress might be boomeranging. In fact, it might not be Bofors 2 as the party might like it to be called; it could very easily be called Coffingate 2. The same Mr. George Fernandes who had earned himself a reputation in the original one might be the one responsible at least party for the scam!
Here are some of the facts that have emerged in the papers today.
Firstly, the Swiss middleman who reportedy made 20 million euros from the Italian company has confessed to investigators that he had met then Air Chief Marshal (ACM) SP Tyagi “6-7 times” to discuss the technical specifications of the helicopters. He also said that of the 20 million euros he got, he had sent 12 million euros to Tyagi’s cousins in Delhi. All this is there in the investigation report filed by the Italian investigators with their court….but our media has this unique habit of shooting first and checking facts later. Had they done their homework, their reports yesterday might have been very different.
Of course ACM Tyagi has a story of his own and this is what makes the plot so interesting. As TV anchors shot their guns (and mouths) off last night stressing on the “change of specs” and the implications of corruption there, and the BJP joined them in chorus, ACM Tyagi pointed out that the specs were in fact changed in 2003 during the NDA rule! It was George Fernandes who was the Defence Minister then. As per ACM Tyagi, it was an NDA cabinet decision to dilute the specs. Normally, I would not question the wisdom of the cabinet in changing specs, as these are often required keeping ground realities in mind, but since it was the BJP that alluded to this being proof of being “caught red handed”, I am compelled to apply the same standards to the BJP now. Net net, by the BJP’s own logic, its cabinet was corrupt, and the change of specs reflects corrupt intent. Clearly, the BJP was not prepared for this, as Nirmala Seetharaman, the usually feisty BJP spokesperson, was very muted in her TV appearance last night. Usually, she has the habit of immediately butting in when the Congress spokesman is speaking, but last night, she was patient, waiting for her turn to come. And all she “demanded” was that the UPA government “give an explanation”! A far cry from the usual “Government must resign” rhetoric the party is used to. Give it another few days and the BJP will be running with its tail between its legs.
Jumping the gun – or call it journalistic immaturity – is visibly obvious in India. Our competitive media landscape forces our channels to forget that these are mere charges that the Italian investigators have made. The courts there haven’t heard the charges, nor the defence’s counter-points. They are far from ruling on the subject. For all we know, they may acquit someone and charge someone else in the deal. As far as Indian media is concerned, the charges made by investigators is the time when the case closes. It’s time when the anchors pronounce the verdict. This is an expression of our “freedom of speech”!
There is also the “minor” point of proving that Tyagi’s cousins and Tyagi himself are “connected” in this deal. If ACM Tyagi’s involvement has to be proved, then someone has to show that money flowed from the brothers to him. A money trail will have to be found. If it was a cash payment, then it may have been deposited somewhere, or siphoned off abroad through a hawala transaction, or something may have been bought with it, or whatever. It would definitely leave a trail behind. The CBI should find that trail out. Just because they are cousins is not enough in a court of law.
Someone on the TV channel made a point that “the CBI is the wrong agency to probe this matter”, hinting that the CBI kowtows to the Congress wishes. Well, that someone may want to read the TOI today – the CBI is screaming that the UPA is stalling Coalgate by delaying giving it the documents required. Let’s decide once and for all whose side is the CBI on!
What is clear is that there is absolutely ZERO linkage to any UPA minister so far. It appears to be a case of corruption in the defence forces. Someone altered the specs to suit this Italian company. That someone was someone in the armed forces (and in the NDA cabinet), not in the UPA ministry. The only thing linking a minister in the UPA to this bribery case is the imagination of some of our TV anchors!
Of course the most entertaining part of this entire escapade is what I call the “emphatic desperation” of the BJP. They are so so grateful to god that this company is an Italian company! If one were to follow the BJP logic, India should stop dealing with Italy in all spheres till Sonia Gandhi (an Italian by birth) remains in India! So maybe its time to say goodbye to Ferrari, Gucci, Prada, Armani, D&G, Bvlgari, Benetton, Versace…..and of course Martini! Kicking this last brand out will find a lot of favor with the keepers of “bharatiya sanskriti”…..the sadhus that support the BJP!
The real truth is that its premature to comment on the helicopter scam. I would not be surprised if corruption was detected in the deal. But the real culprits might well be the bosses in the armed forces. This corruption precedes the UPA; in fact it has existed from time immemorial. There is nothing that implicates the UPA….