In the hammam of Indian politics, Bofors and Bhopal have become everybody's favourite fig-leaves. The moment a scandal erupts and the greed, complicity and incompetence of politicians are exposed in full grandeur in public, everybody rushes to hide their fronts and backs behind the Chaddhas, Andersons and Quattrocchis.
You can only laugh at them for deluding themselves. Politicians might shamelessly dance around in their new clothes, but people can see that by snatching each other's fig leaves, they are only exposing themselves.
Consider the case of Vijay Mallya. It is apparent that the liquor baron - a Rajya Sabha member elected with the support of the BJP, Janata Dal (Devegowda) and the Congress - has left the country even as a consortium of banks waits for him to recover the nearly Rs 9,000 crore loaned to his company.
The amount Mallya owes the banks isn't small. It is almost a fourth of the total money set aside for MNREGA this year by the Narendra Modi government. Since MNREGA envisages 100 days of employment to 52 million people, a rough estimate shows recovery of Mallya's debt alone can keep around 13 million villagers employed.
To be objective, Mallya did not get these loans in a single day. Several banks financed Kingfisher Airlines over the past decade, rolling out the red carpet without bothering about collaterals.
How Mallya got these loans from across the banking spectrum without pledging collaterals is in itself a major scam. Running an airlines is a risky business--it is like betting on a horse--and yet several banks willingly bankrolled Mallya's gamble.
To understand the magnitude of the risk, let us consider the case of Air India. Since 2007-08, when it was merged with Indian Airlines, the carrier has accumulated losses of more than Rs 44,000 crore. Every year, it adds around 5,000 crore to the net loss. Its total borrowings exceed 35,000 crore.
For whatever it is worth, Air India owns a fleet of aircrafts that can be sold off to recover liabilities, if the need arises. Yet, no banker in his right mind will readily give loans to Air India.
Yet, Kingfisher Airlines, with negligible assets of its own--the crafts were on lease--was financed to death by both public sector and private banks. Why? How? Under whose pressure? All this needs to be probed.
Mallya enjoyed patronage of every party. He got elected to Rajya Sabha from Karnataka twice; in 2002, with the support of the Congress and JDS and later with the help of JDS and BJP. On both occasions, he got more votes than other candidates who won on party tickets.
Now that he is threatening to name people who enjoyed his patronage, obviously you can sense fear among politicians. If Mallya starts singing, reputations of several politicians will be destroyed.
Obviously, politicians have started hiding behind the usual fig leaves. In parliament, when the Congress blamed the Modi government for letting Mallya slip away, finance minister Arun Jaitley pulled out the standard BJP reply: So, what about Quattrocchi?
This is identical to the BJP's defence of its role in the Lalit Modi scandal. "An Indian national (Lalit Modi) had asked Sushma ji for her help so that his wife could undergo treatment. Sushma ji talked to a British MP to request that the national be helped if Britain’s rules permit the same,” Shah told ANI when the foreign minister was accused of helping the former IPL commissioner.
“I cannot understand why such a big controversy is being created. This is not a matter of moral ground. This is not similar to [Bofors scandal accused Ottavio] Quattrocchi or [former Union Carbide Corporation CEO Warren] Anderson being allowed to escape India. Some people are trying to turn this into a political matter, but their expectations are useless," Shah argued.
In Mallya's case, there is no cancer plea, humanitarian ground or moral compulsion. There is growing evidence that the CBI let its guard down and helped Mallya leave India before his passport could be impounded.
Yet, the BJP continues to hide behind Quattrocchi and Anderson. It continues to justify its culpability by arguing that even the Congress is guilty of such misdeeds, a standard practice between the two parties for occupying the moral high ground when none exists.
Let this be clear. The Congress was guilty of too many lapses in both Bofors and Bhopal. It may even have been a beneficiary of kickbacks and quid-pro-quo. The BJP should ensure that all those who were guilty are indicted and sent to jail. So far, it has done nothing.
So, it is morally reprehensible to use both for claiming clean chits and certificates of propriety for itself.
Politicians should be ashamed of hiding behind the Bofors scam and Bhopal Gas Tragedy while claiming themselves holier-than-thou, especially because they have used them just as convenient tools to run down each other and fool people.
Next year, we would be celebrating 30 years of the Bofors scam. In 2019, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy would be 35-years old. During the past three decades, we have had governments of all hues, ideologies and parties, of all nature--coalition and single-party; several politicians have won and lost elections solely by talking about Bofors. So far, not a single person has been convicted in the case, not a penny has been recovered from the kickbacks paid--estimated to be around Rs 160 crore-- in the Rs 1500 crore gun deal.
Bhopal's case is even more shocking.
On December 2, 1984, when about 40 tonnes of methyl isocynate gas leaked out of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal's Chhola area, according to official figures, 5,295 died, 4500 were permanently disabled and 42 suffered serious injuries. Thousands continue to be on medication because of the long-term effects of poisoning.
Yet, government after government has failed to bring the guilty to justice or ensure adequate compensation for the victims, who continue to fight a losing battle. Some of the politicians in power today, incidentally, had offered legal services to Union Carbide and helped its owners cheat victims.
Today, they hide behind the tragedy, revealing in public their ugly politics.