Saturday, July 31, 2021

Political play

Scams appear to be the flavour of Indian politics in the run up to 2019 Lok Sabha polls at the cost of by-passing all other crucial issues before the country including unemployment and economic crisis. A usual fare before elections in recent decades has been a horde of corruption charges against the incumbent government. Corruption charges have played an immense role, though not the only driving force, in building up anti-incumbency waves during elections. The only difference this time around is that for every scam that is tumbling out of the cupboard of the BJP led NDA government, there is a bid to dish out a counter-scam against the opponent. Agusta Westland is the latest one to be pulled out in a bid to dilute the devastating impact of Rafael. The Congress led UPA regime may have been accused of multiple scams in the past but the BJP led NDA government’s tireless efforts to prop up Agusta Westland deal for Rafael makes an imbalanced equation. Rafael is a massive scam where the prices of aircrafts to be procured have been hiked up four-fold, number of aircrafts to be procured have been reduced five times and the finger of suspicion is pointed directly at the prime minister’s office. The BJP’s stick against Congress is the discourse of ‘middle-men’ versus ‘inter-governmental deals’. The comparisons are silly and bereft of logic. Cleanliness is not determined by the hierarchies of people involved in the deal but on transparency and cleanliness of the deal. A deal struck by the PMO instead of being routed through middle-men on its own does not qualify to be ‘clean’ if it has violated several parameters and norms. In striking contrast to Rafael deal, the Agusta deal was cancelled by the UPA government itself because of suspected wrong-doings and the Italian firm Agusta Westland was black-listed by the then government. According to the Congress, after the procurement of three choppers, an FIR was lodged, a CBI enquiry ordered and an amount of Rs 2,068 crore recovered from the firm. While the Congress is unable to explain the initial wrong-doing, it appears to have not only successfully cancelled the deal but also recovered more than the amount lost. And this is the prime reason that Agusta Westland and Rafael scams cannot be viewed on an even keel. Effectively, the former deal did not even take place. But the crucial questions to be asked include not only fixing the blame for the original Agusta deal but also looking at how a firm that was black-listed in 2013 by the UPA government, after the scam surfaced, was permitted to participate in the BJP government’s ‘Make in India’ programme by lifting that ban. In October 2015, Agusta Westland was allowed to invest in the country for the manufacturing of 100 fighter helicopters. In 2017, interestingly Agusta Westland got a new contract to build 100 navy choppers for India. These deals with a previously black-listed company were made by the BJP. In nailing the Congress for Agusta Westland, in a vain bid to dilute some of the sting of Rafael deal, four fingers are still pointing back at BJP because it has favoured the same black-listed foreign firm. By getting a middle man, Michel, who is said to have played a crucial role in inking the 2010 Agusta Westland deal under the UPA regime, the BJP is again raising more questions against itself. Eye-brows are raised over the clandestine manner in which the middle-man’s custody was ensured through by-passing of all diplomatic norms. By raking up Agusta Westland in this shoddy manner, the BJP is ending up throwing more muck on its own self. The much larger question is that corruption being a vital issue necessitates efforts to bring in more transparency in issues of governance. Unfortunately, none of the parties involved are interested in that. Scams make an essential ingredient of petty electoral politics.