Non reply doesn’t make Agusta a non issue 

May 1, 2016

There is a term in government parlance called non-paper, basically designed to cover grey space, to suggest a position without offering any commitment. Indian politics should now acknowledge the emergence of a new term that extends this concept to the edge: a “non-reply”. The purpose of a non-reply is to camouflage any response with so much assertion that volume and attitude disguise equivocation. Or, if you want to shift the metaphor into cricket terminology, when you have to snick, snick hard and pray that the ball, instead of being caught in the slips, races to the boundary.

When Mrs Sonia Gandhi was asked about the reference to her name in the Italian court judgement convicting an arms company’s executives for giving bribes, she replied defiantly that she was not afraid of anyone. It may be perfectly true that Mrs Gandhi is not afraid, but that was not the question.

Indeed it might even be true that Mrs Gandhi is not afraid of the law. After all, whenever Congress has been in power during the last three decades, either directly or indirectly, it is others who have been afraid of Mrs Sonia Gandhi. Even when her party is out of power and in a bit of shambles, it remains completely in thrall to her, according her the privileges of quasi-divinity. She can do no wrong. She is never accountable. Such unquestioning obedience can become addictive.

This deference, however, is between party and leader. What is not so cosy is the relationship between Congress leaders involved in the Agusta-Westland helicopter scandal and the country, which wants to know what happened to its money.

There is no shortage of questions. Here’s one for starters: how did James Christian Michel, the middleman at the heart of the Agusta-Westland scandal and a familiar face on Delhi’s power-party circuit, suddenly leave the capital on 13 February 2013, one day after CBI registered a preliminary enquiry after details were revealed abroad? Why did Michel receive 18 million euros [Rs 135 crore] from Agusta-Westland for the “purchase” of discarded Pawan Hans helicopters when their worth, as scrap, was only 5% of that value? [Agusta-Westland has not been renamed Father Christmas Private Limited.] Who was this money meant for? The Italian court judgement refers to a powerful Indian “FAM”: which political FAM was the most powerful family during the UPA regime? It also mentions “AP” as a beneficiary. Now who could this AP be?

Congress leaders have been vocal about the fact that they cancelled the helicopter contract when news of bribery broke out. Very interesting. What happened to the massive advance that was given to Agusta-Westland for the contract? Why has that advance never been returned? Is the end result then that Agusta-Westland kept the advance and did not deliver enough helicopters to cover the advance, winning twice in the money game?

We also learn that Agusta-Westland budgeted Rs 50 crore to persuade Indian media to wear blindfolds, or perhaps become its defence counsel in possible media trials.

That is another can of worms waiting to be opened.

One could go on, but it would be merely repetitive. Unsurprisingly, the Congress defence has been muddled by either inaccuracy or bluster in order to cloud facts with verbiage. Witness only the claim made in Parliament that Congress government had blacklisted Agusta-Westland. It did not. Or the spurious allegation, abetted by a false newspaper report, that some sort of a deal was made between the present Prime Minister of India and Italy. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley categorically exposed this lie on the floor of the Rajya Sabha, and Congress has gone quiet on this fabrication since then.

Bravado is not a substitute for facts. It really is as simple as that. Something dramatic has begun to unravel thanks to a court case in Italy, and much more will become public knowledge as the investigation process gathers momentum in our country. You can spin a web to hide the truth if you control the instruments of power, but that game only lasts as long as you are in office.

There was a time when the CPI[M] and CPI would have been on the front lines of this offensive against corruption. Today, the Marxists are compromised. In Bengal their attack on Mamata Banerjee for corruption rings hollow, given their silence over Agusta-Westland. If the Marxists cannot castigate the Western “corrupt capitalist-industrial-military complex”, then there is not much else to say, is there?

A non-reply may, or may not, purchase temporary relief, but it never makes corruption a non-issue.


M.J. Akbar’s Twitter handle is @mjakbar
The column can be accessed athttp://www.sundayguardianlive.com/opinion/4325-non-reply-doesn-t-make-agusta-non-issue

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