Yet another scam has tumbled out of the Congress-led UPA Government’s closet. This time it is about bribes paid by the Italian aerospace and arms manufacturer Finmeccanica to certain Indian individuals and entities to secure the order to supply 12 AgustaWestland helicopters to the IAF for use by our ‘VVIPs’. The full details of the scandal are yet to be placed in the public domain, but the CEO of Finmeccanica has been arrested and an Italian court is dealing with the case. Strangely, it is Italy which is prosecuting the bribe-givers and not India which should have, by now, identified and punished the bribe-takers. After all, it has been known for long that all was not fine with the AgustaWestland deal and there have been several reports in the media about bribes having been sought and secured.
A shaken Defence Minister has ordered a CBI inquiry while his Ministry has issued a formal show cause notice as to why the manufacturers of these helicopters should not be black-listed and penalised for violating the Indian norm of ‘no middlemen, no fees’ in defence deals. The Congress is trying to ward off further damage to the party’s reputation which already lies in tatters. Interestingly, documents produced by the prosecution in the Italian court hearing the case suggest a certain ‘Family’ had to be paid a hefty sum of money to secure the order. Which ‘Family’ benefited from the deal? Perhaps we will eventually get to know, perhaps we won’t. But a fair guess can be made though we cannot say it publicly.
Three points merit mention in connection with the unravelling scam. First, black-listing a firm is not the solution to fixing India’s deal-fixing problem. The rate at which manufacturers, especially of defence hardware, are being black-listed, we will soon run out of suppliers. Second, defence acquisition that can brook no further delay should not suffer just because yet another scandal has surfaced. That approach has had a huge negative impact on our defence preparedness ever since Bofors happened. Third, we should acknowledge that there are black sheep in the defence forces as the first step towards identifying them and then culling them (figuratively speaking).
Which brings me to the issue of political corruption, the bane of our Republic. If the palms of politicians, or those who enjoy close proximity to certain politicians, have indeed been greased by the makers of AgustaWestland helicopters, then they should be punished pitilessly. Sadly we do not live in an ideal world. The beneficiaries of the Bofors bribery scandal were never brought to book. On the contrary, our wimp of a Prime Minister regretted that Ottavio Quattrocchi, the Italian fixer who got the payola and whose proximity to the Congress’s First Family is no secret, faced prosecution in India. That was after helping him pick up the slush money he had parked in a London bank and before calling off the chase.
It’s simple. The Congress is synonymous with corruption – not just any corruption, but corruption in high places. To paraphrase a marketing slogan, we could say, ‘Whenever you see corruption, think Congress’. What we have is a cash-and-carry regime which has no compunction about stealing from the people money which belongs to them. It is laughable the party should now come up with the slogan ‘Aapka paisa, aapke haath mein’. It should really be ‘Aapka paisa, Congress ke Haath mein’.
We could force a change and smash the status quo. Or we could just sit back and say, ‘What to do? We are like this only.’