Are there no depths that the Congress party led UPA government will not plumb to protect the criminally corrupt? When exactly will the Indian public wake up to the realization that the pervasive corruption that hollows out the Indian state is the sole achievement of the Congress party over its decades of misrule — practically all of India’s existence as an independent country in modern times? If even the unspeakable misgovernance by Mr Manmohan Singh does not enrage the Indians, what on earth will it take — a thousand thermonuclear devices?
I just cannot fathom the Indian voter. Right after independence in 1947, you could have excused the public for overwhelmingly supporting Nehru and his cohorts. Then came a series of disastrous missteps — literally and figuratively Himalayan in proportion. Economically the country was set on the ruinous path of socialism which gave birth to the immiserizing licence-permit-control-quota raj. Decades of “Nehru rate of growth” of around two percent increased the absolute numbers of abjectly poor people by the tens of millions every decade. Did that wake up the people? No. They continued to allow the rapacious gang of immoral politicians continue to destroy what little was left standing. It seems as if a fairly large number of people are absolutely resolute in their determination to live lives of utter destitution by voting for precisely that party that has done the country untold harm.
Why do they do that? That’s the biggest puzzle, perhaps second only to the puzzle in the Mahabharata.
(In the Mahabharata, someone asks, “Of all the wonders of the universe, which is the most wondrous of all?” It is one of those occasional geniuses who replies, “Man sees death and mortality all around him all his life. But he is never quite fully persuaded of his own mortality.”)
* * *
The Bofors gun kickback story is as well known as it is old. To refresh your memory, see Seema Mustafa’s short piece of May 6th in ExpressBuzz titled “It’s the Bofor’s ghost again.”
Bofors is a story that will just not go away. It cannot for reasons that Congress president Sonia Gandhi cannot fathom. And the reasons are many. It was the first case where kickbacks in a defence deal were confirmed. It was the first case that the Indian media pursued in great detail, and with tremendous enthusiasm.
It was the first case that actually established a trail between middlemen, high flying ‘foreign’ connections and the Nehru- Gandhi First Family of India. It was the first case that brought down a government, that astounded not just the middle class but also the villagers, and that assumed a dynamics of its own that is still able to generate heat during an Indian election.
It is a story where the middlemen might be dead but the Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, a close friend of Sonia Gandhi, is alive and kicking. During his days in Delhi he told this columnist on more than one occasion that he was not really such a good friend of Sonia Gandhi, at a time when his was one of the few names to have been cleared for free entry into then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s residence. Quattrocchi has subsequently changed his tune, and now when he is actually not such a good friend of Sonia Gandhi, he makes it clear to any reporter who manages to meet him abroad that they are great friends, and know each other extremely well. Obviously, in saying so the wily Italian businessman has managed to make it clear that he knows a lot more than he is saying, and that if the Indian government does manage to get his head into the noose, he will talk. And talk happily.
. . .
The result is that in the intervening years the CBI was unable to collect evidence, although it is available in plenty, to pin Quattrocchi down in courts abroad; he himself evaded the law and the supposedly vigilant Indian machinery to get back to Italy; his accounts in London that had been frozen as these could establish the trail to the kickbacks were released as the Indian government sat back and deliberately let the reminders lapse; the money was withdrawn by him almost immediately; and then when he was arrested by Argentina under an Interpol notice issued at the time of the Bofors case, the government ensured that the case was completely botched up and Quattrocchi was able to walk out a free man.
And now to complete the circle, on the eve of the elections the CBI, under instructions, has withdrawn the Interpol notice against him and the Italian friend of Sonia Gandhi is a free man. This has been done during the elections, after it has become increasingly clear that the Congress might not be able to form the government.
And everyone knows that in case a government here is able to get Mr Q to justice he will squeal. And that could be worrisome for some.
The BJP has made some valiant noises on the deal but has not been able to explain why it did not pursue the case with the same vigour as the V P Singh government had. The Congress has been defending the decision on the record, but privately Congressmen tell critical reporters, “what do you expect us to do, we have to defend this or we will lose our job”. Of course Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi do not see what the fuss is about, but obviously they know the answer for if there is no need to fuss, there was no need to prime the CBI to save the Italian businessman. It has been a shameful deed, a gross violation of the law, and while there is sufficient information to damn the CBI, the fingers are now pointing very directly at those who are in power and in control. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is amongst those responsible. He makes a penchant of honesty; this is the time for him to explain these murky developments.
Clearly there are problems, and Bofors will not go away from media memory just because the Nehru-Gandhi family wishes it so. They should also realise that by misusing the official machinery to save Quattrocchi from the long arm of the law, over and over again, guilt and not innocence has been established. And in the public perception this is enough to keep the Bofors ghost alive. And the favourite pastime of ghosts, as we know, is to haunt.
PM Manmohan Singh is a dishonest man and is a disgrace to the proud and noble Sikhs, a disgrace to India, a disgrace to the worthy economics profession. He lacks pride in his own self. He’s a toady — one who flatters in the hope of gaining favors. A sycophant. He is what we call in Hindi भाड़े का टट्टू, a horse for hire. Granted that he is basically a civil servant and is trained to follow orders. But surely, he could have been his own man after being appointed the prime minister. Or perhaps he was appointed precisely because of his flexible morality and his ability to follow orders.
Talking of criminals brings me back to the question which I asked right at the top: what will the UPA government not do to protect the criminally corrupt? Quattrocchi is one famous case. Another case involves one Mr Hassan Ali Khan, a sometime resident of — of all places — Pune, the city where I unpack my bags.
You may be familiar with Mr Khan and his reported around $8 billion in some foreign bank. In case you want the relevant facts, please read Mr Arun Shourie’s press statement of May 12th, “The Predictable Scandal.”
That this [UPA] Government, the Government that has let Ottavio Quattrochi take away the money that had been frozen on orders of the courts; this Government which then used the CBI to let the man off the hook completely; this Government in which corruption has reached levels that were unheard of till now; this Government which has been consistently soft on terror, that this Government should now have stooped so low as to help an operator like Hassan Ali Khan by sending forged documents to a foreign Government is entirely in character.
Based on what they have been told by officials of intelligence agencies as well as of the Enforcement Directorate, the media have reported that Hassan Ali Khan
• Has been known to be connected to Dawood Ibrahim
• Has been known to have been channeling very large amounts from unknown sources into the Indian stock market
• Has had 8 to 9 billion dollars in the UBS and other banks of Switzerland
• Has been responsible for hawala transactions of over Rs. 35,000 crore through Swiss banks.
Go read it all.
The most basic rule of the social contract between the government and the people is that the government is not willfully criminal in intent and action. That contract has been repeatedly and severely violated. That the government did so and still continues to expect support from the people speaks to how enormous its contempt for the people is.
Here’s Shourie once again:
Once again, the country is being held up to ridicule – once again, the world is being shown how the Government of India will bend our laws and institutions to help the worst sorts of criminals and their associates, exactly as banana republics do.
The biggest puzzle for me is whether the people of India deserve the contempt that the Congress government holds them in. That puzzle will be solved within the week — if the UPA comes back to continue its rape of India, the people would have demonstrated that they deserve the contempt that the Congress party has for them.
PS: You may have guessed from this rant that I am very very upset. That happens. You may wish to read “Of Kakistocracies, Principals, and Agents” to understand where I am coming from.