ALL defence deals have inbuilt commission which is paid to those who purchase armaments. The Congress Party, after getting power soon after independence used the money to fight elections. Babu Jagjivan Ram, the then Defence Minister, managed the funds, not letting the deals becoming a scandal. The uproar today is over the kickbacks over and above the usual commission. Now even the defence specifications are changed if the money paid is substantial. This happened in the case of VVIP choppers’ purchase. The flying altitude was lowered because the Augsta Westland gave a large sum of money as bribe.
That Mrs Sonia Gandhi has been named by an Italian court at Milan is nothing intentional. The judge found the eye of suspicion turning towards her. Accusations and counter-accusations will not serve the purpose. It is an open secret that Sonia Gandhi, a powerful person even at that time, was very much in the picture. The best course available now is that the Supreme Court should constitute a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to work under its supervision to probe the matter de novo to know the truth, however late it is. At the same time, parliament should appoint a committee to lay down procedures to buy defence equipment. The present one has not much of deterrence. This again depends on how earnest and serious are the political parties. At present the defence deals are the major source for ruling political party to oil its electoral machinery. What surprises one is that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) did not have any clue to the kickbacks and where they were coming from and going to. It is possible that the agency came to know about truth but did not reveal because parrot is caged, to use a description given by a political party.
This only strengthens the plea, underlined in these columns earlier, that the CBI should be made an independent agency, directly answerable to parliament alone. The fact that no major political party thinks on those lines indicates that all of them know the advantage of having the CBI as a government department. Retired CBI directors have gone on record as saying that the pressure exerted by the ruling party is so relentless that the agency has no option except to wilt. Even when the public outcry is against a corrupt chief minister, he chooses to appoint his wife in his place ignoring the protests. Corruption in all the three neighbouring countries, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has become a way of life. A politician’s standard of living is now so high that the emoluments which he gets are not adequate to meet his expenses. Ultimately, it is the money that makes the mare go.
Gone are the days when a Member of Parliament thought that his was a service to the country. A salary of Rs. 500 was the limit that Mahatma Gandhi had fixed. Even from this amount, a donation had to be given to the party. Once the generation of those who came through the fire of freedom struggle disappeared, the question of how much should be the emoluments came to the fore. The current demand of MPs to double their emoluments has been discussed in the parliament affairs committee and the members have asked for a raise. It is understandable and it would be fair if the emoluments are linked to the cost of living. But the media, particularly the television networks, make such a hue and cry that no political party dares to suggest an increase in salary of legislators. Therefore, they look for other avenues. It is an open secret that many get a regular payback from corporate and business houses and even public sector undertakings.
When everyone is in position he tries to add to his income from here or there. The legislators cannot overcome the temptation. Top retired government officials also take the same path. For example, former Air Chief S.P. Tyagi has been found to have helped his family members in the chopper deal. The local bribe-takers have already been punished by the Italian court and they are serving the sentence. But in India, the guilty are yet to be brought to book.
It is interesting that as many as 20 journalists are also among the bribe takers. Their names are also with the government. Why it has not made them public is intriguing. Has politics come in or personal equation? Whatever be the reason, the public has the right to know the names of the journalists because they preach morality all the time but are found wanting when it comes to practicing the same.
It is the duty of the Editors Guild to see that the names are made public without delay. But then I recall that at one meeting when we were talking about ethics the suggestion that editors should make their assets public, there was little response from the members. Even the Press Council has not been able to lay down any rule whereby editors, when appointed, are made to declare their assets. Sting operations may be a new way to find the truth, but they are more sensational in nature than in content. This also has become another avenue to extort money. Statements made by Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar have tried to uncover certain scandals but the purpose seems to be more political in nature than anything worthwhile. The problem of commission in defence still stares at the nation. The solution can be found only when politics is pushed into the background and the real intent comes to the fore.
Even if all political parties adopt a code of ethics, they will not be able to adhere to it both in letter and in spirit. The Central Vigilance Commission is of little use because it is influenced by the government in power. Now the only way out seems to be a permanent SIT-like outfit under the supervision of the apex court. Even RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, who raised expectations, has failed to fulfil them.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.