Subramanian Swamy may have been instantly successful in muckraking against Sonia Gandhi and the Congress on his return to Rajya Sabha, but the real sensible noise on the AugustaWestland scandal came from Arvind Kejriwal when he asked the BJP if it would arrest the Congress president and her acolytes.
Swamy’s frontal attack on Sonia on the day of his re-entry to Parliament was not surprising because of two reasons - one, she has been a persona non grata for him for years, and two, the BJP was waiting for additional fuel to further disgrace the vestige of the Congress.
There isn’t any conclusive evidence that can fix Sonia other than the references in the Italian court order, which reportedly called her the “driving force” behind the scandalous deal. In fact, the reference itself came from the letters of two indicted men. The two may have been speaking the truth, or may have just been bragging about their proximity to the powers that be in Delhi, the way Bofors-accused Ottavio Quattrocchi and many other Italian businessmen reportedly used to do during Rajiv Gandhi’s first term. But nothing more is likely to come out from the Italian investigators or courts on that because otherwise, the judgment would have been more explicit.
That’s precisely what suits the BJP: a convenient smokescreen that will permanently leave a cloud of suspicion on the Gandhis and their extended Italian family and friends - the new age Bofors that can never be proved or disproved. If Bofors tore into Rajiv Gandhi’s veneer of innocence and claims of uprightness, AugustaWestland will further muddle the affairs of the Sonia-headed household.
So, Arvind Kejriwal is right when he reportedly tweeted: “BJP’ll never do it. BJP’s intentions are bad. For five years, BJP will engage in political rhetoric. There is a strong relationship between Congress and BJP.” The party will use it for the remainder of their term as well as for the next elections.
In a country beset with corruption, criminality and nepotism, it’s naive to believe that billion dollar deals for arms or any other form of supplies with overseas manufacturers are done without kickbacks. India spends about Rs 75,000 crore on defence-related purchases. It includes a massive network of suppliers and manufacturers handling small, medium and big deals and to believe that everything is above board on these is foolish. The covers have been blown many times and the Tehelka sting (Operation West End) in 2001 clearly demonstrated how vulnerable our system is; still our governments tell us that everything is clean.
It’s not just in India and it’s not just the Congress-led governments, but the NDA too. Defence deals all over the world are murky and in countries with stricter rule of law and better surveillance, there are at least some systems to track illegality, but in India, they always end up as political scams - whether it was the Jeep scam in 1948, Bofors in 1989, Kargil coffins in 1999 or the Tetra trucks in 2009. None of them found a proper closure with the criminals involved being sent to jail.
Perhaps Bofors was the closest to being cracked, but the country still doesn't know who pocketed the kickbacks, even after the CBI spending more than four times the money the scam allegedly cost the country. The Tatra trucks deal, that went on for years in which the CBI estimated a possible embezzlement of Rs 750 crore, also met with the same fate of being abandoned without finding the real story and the people behind it. In 2014, the CBI closed it for lack of evidence, exactly the way it did in the Bofors case after investigating for 21 years.
The same thing will happen in the AugustaWestland case as well. The Italian investigators may not have anything more to add to what’s mentioned in the court papers, which are not good enough to pin down anybody. Without conducting a far better investigation on Italian soil, than what the Italians themselves did, the Indian government will not be able to find anything more. But politically, it’s an ugly scar that Sonia cannot scrub off. That’s why the case is a goldmine for the BJP.
Poor Sonia can only shout from the rooftop that she’s innocent because nobody cares about the truth as much as they do about perception. Rajiv may have been innocent in the Bofors scam, but its taint hasn’t worn off even today. Nothing will be proved in this case as well, but Sonia will be maligned for ever.
By targeting the BJP, Kejriwal too is looking for his pound of political flesh. Not that he hasn’t understood the futility of an investigation to nail Sonia or the flimsiness of the charges against her, but by charging that BJP’s inaction is because of its collusion with Congress, he is trying to amplify the AAP alternative to the existing culture of politics in India. In a way he’s true, because both the UPA and the NDA were equally vulnerable to scandals, particularly on defence procurements and it’s never going to be clean because the system is rotten from within.
(Interestingly, there is a minor parallel between Sonia’s name being included in Italian court papers and a case that happened during the UPA regime. A man was prosecuted in Canada for allegedly bribing an Indian minister. He even named the minister, but the UPA did nothing because there was no “evidence”. The minister concerned was not a national name and hence nobody bothered to go after him.)