Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why link helicopter bribe scam to UPA?

When a low ranking clerk in Madhya Pradesh was found with crores of rupees at his home, I don’t remember reading newspaper reports connecting the MP Chief Minister or his cabinet to the crime. Nor when a senior IAS couple were found in a similar fashion in the same state. Then why should the helicopter bribing issue – in which the ex IAF chief is alleged to have accepted a bribe to clear it – be linked to the UPA government? Sure, the deal happened during its watch. Sure, the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by the PM cleared the deal. So what? Does it mean that the government is corrupt? 

Yet, media outlets are making it appear as if it is. The facts of the matter speak a different story. Here is what has emerged so far. The CEO of the Italian firm, Finmeccanica, has been arrested for paying commissions on the deal to some European dealers. That amount is supposedly 51 million euros, or Rs 350 crores that is being bandied about in media. That commission may be illegal by Indian defence rules and the Italian supplier will have to be held accountable for it. Maybe the deal will be canceled. Maybe a penalty will be enforced. And as the cliché goes, the law will take its own course. But why make it look like the Rs 350 crore flowed back to Indian politicians? Honeslty, it’s too much of a leap. And definitely very poor journalism.

A small part of that Rs 350 crores must indeed have flowed back to India. Maybe the standard 10% that one hears of? Maybe a little lesser? And it appears, as per the report filed by Italian investigators (as reported in the Indian Express), that the bribe was paid to the then IAF chief, not to any politician. Everyone knows there is rampant corruption in the defence forces. The former Indian Army Chief, General VK Singh had also alleged that he had been offered Rs 14 crores in bribe. If that is the going rate for the Indian Army chief, then the IAF chief might have got around the same or a little lesser. The Government’s job is to make sure such corrupt people are duly punished, if and when they are found guilty. Setting up a CBI probe is a good idea, though some allege that it should have been done earlier, since allegations of corruption had surfaced earlier. I don’t know how feasible that is really. How many CBI probes can be set up merely on the basis of random allegations? Should all arms deals be “automatically” handed over to the CBI since almost all of them are in any case shrouded in corruption.

It is also a fact that much of these rumors are in fact spread by those who lose the contracts. In this case, the role of the Americans cannot be ignored. This is the beauty of the private sector. The muck eventually surfaces! 

I am reminded of the recent allegations made in the Indian media about Walmart – apparently bribing Indian politicians. That brought the Lok Sabha to a stop for a few hours. The American company had indeed paid lobbying fees, but to American politicians. The amount stated was for lobbying work done across a string of countries, one of which was India; yet Indian media and later Indian opposition leaders were happy to accuse the UPA of having accepted the “bribes”. There wasn’t even an iota of evidence presented. Not from this lobbying effort in any case. Lobbying in America is legal, and the declaration by Walmart to their Senate was part of that legal process. Yet, like bafoons, we in India made it look like someone had bribed our politicians.

In this case, the ministers involved – the PM, the Defence Minister Antony, the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee – are known for their personal integrity. Not a single charge of corruption has been made on them ever. To allege that they were involved in the corruption is irresponsible journalism. Even the Italians have not done that. To assume that the IAF chief “take directions” from the minister on such acts of corruption (if proven true) is pathetic. Then the inane point that even the US has not ordered such sophisticated helicopters is bizarre. The US has several hundreds of such planes for VIP security; they may not have needed this one. The US is also not located in the most volatile and dangerous part of the world as India is. The US has had only 4 Presidens assassinated while in office in its nearly 250 years of existence. India on the other hand has seen 2 PMs and the Father of the nation himself, apart from scores of other politicians, assassinated in just its first 40 years. Besides, what is this inferiority complex that shows up repeatedly? Does the US set the standards for India??? Such type of irresponsible journalism needs to be checked.

The tendency to exaggerate is rampant with Indian authorities, including Indian media. The whole figure of Rs 1.76 lac crores in the 2G matter – as if that was money taken by politicians – was bandied about by the CAG first, the media and opposition leaders later. Yet, nothing has been found apart from the Rs 200 crore scam between the DB group and Raja (not proven yet). And recently, an effort by Unitech to influence the CBI prosecution (again, not proven, and strongly denied by Unitech). Ditto with the coal “scam”, where the CAG first and the media later chose to confuse policy decisions with corruption of some crazy order. Or the “Rs 70000 crore” CWG scam which supposedly started the UPA’s “downslide”. Well so far, Suresh Kalmadi has been charged with a low-level scam in which the actual corruption may not even be Rs 50 crores. Exaggeration is truly an Indian trait….!

Of course there is corruption in India. Lots of it. But to assume that it all happens “at the top” is scurrilous. It happens mostly at the lowest levels (the cop, the passport office clerk, the tax department). It also happens mostly in the states, where small and big bureaucrats and other officials make merry (and money!) outside the glare of national media. But in the glass fishbowl that is Delhi and especially in the porous offices of the central government, under the ever watchful eyes of media and scores of eager-beaver institutions, to think that such corruption happens in the upper echelons of government is impossible. No heed needs be paid to such accusations. The real world unfortunately is different. Perceptions built through such allegations survive far longer. The political damage is done.

The real truth is that when news of corruption breaks out, we all jump to the conclusion that the ministers must have made money. We just believe that…..somehow! In reality, there are a lot of people in the food chain who could have made the money. But in order for the story to gain traction, for it to become the talking point, it is important the allegations are leveled against the minister. That’s the immature reality of Indian media and politics….

1 comment:

  1. Firstly my friend. Not having a personal charge framed against for corruption does not guarantee that the person is not corrupt. It does suggest that the person has not been framed or charged with .. yet!
    And on the doubt of 'why the political parties' be linked with it. I may rather state that it is generally expected of the leading parties and the political leader in power to act rationally and reasonably before signing off a deal in an a 'hay-way' fashion. If something goes amiss, it is the responsibility of the party (who-so ever is in power) to take initiative at the first stance. Lets not forget that their purpose is to serve the people of India first (that also include you and I), and whatever problem that arises (let it be a scam), it is the matter of their responsibility to deal with it and accept the mistakes happened therewith...
    Let be a common man first, and then professionals.

    but asap.. Great post. :)