Sunday, March 24, 2013

A status update on various recent “scams” shows it was mostly froth….

Since a lot of so called “scams” have “broken” on media in the last few months, I think it’s a good time to look at their current status. How much of all was this was just hot air (or gas), and how much was the honest truth. The update will help the sift the politics out of the business of scam mongering.

1)    The Agusta Westland chopper deal: When the story first broke, it started off with a simple allegation that there were agents involved in the deal. This was a violation of India’s defence policy, but there was no direct involvement of any politician. As the story quickly snowballed, the truth got buried, and political allegations started flying thick and fast. While there was a case made out that Air Chief Marshall’s three cousins had received commissions, and that ACM Tyagi himself was perhaps a beneficiary, there was no hint of any ministers being involved. Later however, the BJP’s focus shifted to alluding to a “massive” corruption in the Congress. The party even called it “Bofors 2”. And then there was this ridiculous charge that since it was a deal with Italy, Sonia Gandhi was a recipient of the bribe! Current status: Initial facts look like they were correct. Latest CBI findings suggest that the Tyagi brothers were indeed involved; there is also a possible link-up with ACM Tyagi (today’s papers), though a money trail to him is still to be found. There is ZERO linkage to any Congress politician, leave alone Sonia Gandhi. In fact, Defence Minister Antony has been on the offensive, pushing the BJP onto the backfoot. If he has his way, the chopper deal will be canceled, pushing the country behind by a decade. To his credit, Antony has stayed head and shoulders above any wrongdoing.
2)    Private banks’ “money laundering” sting: Two weeks back, a “huge” sting operation was conducted by Cobrapost, which alleged that top private banks were helping dubious clients convert black money to white. So much was alright, but to add a little masala, the whole thing was converted to a political story by the BJP making the claim that “the government was not serious about curbing black money”. Where the BJP got the idea to link what was essentially the handiwork of a few bank managers to the government’s anti-black-money struggle, no one knows and the party doesn’t deem it necessary to explain. Current status: the RBI conducted a full inquiry and has cleared the banks of any wrongdoing. Whatever happened was at a local level. The banks in turn have suspended a few officials. Is this a cover up? Well, it was a regulator who inquired, not a government official. Make up your own mind.
3)    Rs 1.76 lac crore 2G scam: The CAG triggered this off by hinting at a “notional” loss. The BJP converted it to a “national” loss. The basis of the figure was a benchmarking with the 3G auctions, which for different reasons, had priced spectrum very high. It’s a different story that those prices were so unsustainable that the 3G business has become a huge loss making proposition for the telcos. The government mis-handled the situation by distancing itself from the “low price” formula it had adopted, shunning Kapil Sibal’s rightful assertion that it was a policy decision and there was zero loss. Current status: A series of 2G auctions – modeled on the “successful” (in reality, failed) 3G auctions – have shown that the value of 2G spectrum is far lesser than the CAG pronounced. In fact, the high auction pricing policy – directed by the Supreme Courts and CAG’s activism – is the reason why the auctions are failing. The subscriber base has started crashing. Telcos are bleeding. A witchhunt against the telcos has started. The sector is in a mess. Subramaniam Swamy tried his levellest best – going right up to the SC – but could not prove Chidambaram’s involvement. In the meanwhile, the main accused Raja is the only one who looks guilty (though not proven yet). The amount of corruption is of the order of a few hundred crores (if proved). Truth. Just plain truth.
4)    The CWG scam: Now remember this was touted to be a Rs 70,000 crore scam. I thought after 2 years we would at least have a trace of that sum. Current status: Truth is that the only case filed against Kalmadi is something about a Rs 90 crore loss suffered by the country in a TSR order placed on a Swiss firm rather than a Spanish firm. Remember, this is only a chargesheet. The case is still to be proven. Those who handle business know that often the cheapest quote is not the best because there are conditionalities attached or the vendor’s credentials are suspect. But leave that aside. The actual corruption would be much lower than the Rs 90 crores loss. So yes, Kalmadi is in the dock, but the Rs 70,000 crore number was just a sensationalist story.
5)    Robert Vadra’s Haryana land deals: A lot was made out of this. Vadra had reportedly made sweetheart deals with DLF, and DLF had allegedly been “taken care of” somewhere else by the Haryana government. The activist IAS officer Ashok Khemka was the flavor of the TV circuit for a few days for having the guts to cancel Vadra’s deals. Current status: Here’s an update by CNN IBN quoted in a story: “Haryana’s deputy commissioners have found no irregularities in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s land deals. A panel of four Deputy Commissioners has given Vadra’s deals a clean chit. Four Haryana deputy commissioners conducted inquiries into Vadra’s deals after IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s order, dated October 12,” CNN-IBN said in a report.” The only thing which stays is that Vadra made good profits, but then is that a crime? Kejriwal who leveled the allegations (whats new about that?) hasn’t yet filed any case against Vadra. Why?
6)    Salman Khurshid’s NGO: Since the time the “scam” broke in Oct 2012, not much has happened. Strange, considering this is the Union Foreign Minister (highly vulnerable) and the case is being run in UP, an opposition run state! Current status: The latest is that the Allahabad Bench of the UP High Court has issued notices to the Zakir Hussain Memorial trust….. When the story broke, Kejriwal and several media outfits had already concluded that Khurshid was guilty.

The real truth is that all this shows that we must wait for the froth to subside to get to the facts. In a country with politics as effervescent as it is, it is the froth that attracts our attention. But the froth is just that. Froth. Its not the truth. And that is the real truth!

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