INDIAN AND ITALIAN PM TRY TO FIND COMMON GROUND
irst the facts. A leading Kolkata daily has reported that Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, a deal: India could settle the matter about the two Italian marines in exchange for proof of the involvement of a member of Sonia Gandhi’s Italian family in the Agusta Westland bribery scam.
In a front-page report in the 1 February edition, the widely-circulated daily said that Christian Michel, the British arms agent wanted in India in connection with the helicopter deal, has written to international courts that “the Indian PM proposed to the Italian PM that in return for any evidence that the key adviser to Finmeccanica/Agusta Westland had any relationship to a member of the Gandhi family, the case of the two Italian marines” could be handled to their mutual satisfaction. Modi and Renzi met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York last September.
Michael confirmed to the paper that he had indeed written to the International Tribunal of the Law of the Seas in Hamburg and the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. He stands by his claim. Italy had dragged India to The Hague court after legal proceedings against the two Italian marines were launched on murder charges. The two were accused of killing two fishermen in Indian waters off the coast of Kerala in February 2012. Italians claimed that the incident took place in international waters. Since then one of the marines has been allowed to go home on medical grounds while the other is still in India, not allowed to leave until further court orders.
The detention and court proceedings against the marines are a huge emotional and political issue in Italy. The marines are now household names, with rival politicians competing with one another in committing themselves to ensure their well-being and to see to it that India drops the murder charges. Therefore, Renzi stands to gain politically should he strike a deal with Modi.
However, providing evidence about the involvement of a relative of Sonia Maino Gandhi in the bribery scam too would hurt Italian interests, especially when Italian brokers and companies had gained enormously upon Sonia Antonia Maino becoming Sonia Gandhi. Otherwise, it would be extremely easy for the Italians to provide the information Modi seeks, given that there has been a huge transformation in the fortunes of the extended Maino family since she became Indira Gandhi’s bahu. As a result, Italy too had become a major defence supplier to India.
The helicopter deal too was signed with AgustaWestland because, at the time, it was a subsidiary of the Italian firm Finmeccanica. India purchased 12 helicopters for Rs 3,600 crore after tweaking the tender to favour the Italian company. Air Force Chief at the time, S.P. Tyagi and his brothers are also suspects in the bribery scam brokered by the British arms agent Michael. Interestingly, Michael’s father too was involved in a number of such deals with the Congress leaders back in the 1980s and 1990s.
It is, however, puzzling that the front-page story in a leading newspaper did not cause ripples in the political circles. At one level, the Prime Minister offering a trade-off to his Italian counterpart could be questioned, especially when the matter of the Italian marines was in the court both in India and in The Hague arbitration court. But Modi knew what he was doing. After all, those back home who had profited from such corrupt deals were hardly in a position to protest.
As for the Congress, well, it saw percentage in not making much to-do about it lest the public focus return to the Bofors-like deals of the party bosses. In a large number of defence deals Italian brokers and/or firms enjoyed the most favoured status only because they shared the spoils with the Family back in Orbassano, a small village in Turin which now commemorates its chief benefactor by naming a street after Rajiv Gandhi. Sceptics need only recall the name of Quattrocchi and remember the lengths to which successive Congress administrations had gone to protect that crooked broker.
MEDIA HONCHOS IN RACE FOR RS -NOMINATION
The government is likely to nominate a member from the media to the Rajya Sabha in the next couple of weeks. Speculation in the political circles centres around two names, both less than illustrious, but nonetheless influential in the power corridors. One is a self-confessed wheeler-dealer; the other only pretends to be honest. Both are known to be thoroughly unscrupulous in the pursuit of profit. Both happen to be linked to the audio-visual media. Both now claim to be Sangh Parivar loyalists, but are widely known to have betrayed the Sangh whenever money came into play.
The six-year-term of former editor, H.K. Dua, nominated at the instance of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, ended in November last year. Dua, whatever you may consider about his journalistic capabilities, was a gentleman, miles away from any sort of wrongdoing, something which cannot be said about the media duo in the running for the lone Rajya Sabha seat.
PAWAR’S ACHILLES’ HEEL
Sharad Pawar’s defence of his beleaguered lieutenant Chhagan Bhujbal is rather puzzling. For, the Maratha chieftain normally does not expose his vulnerability thus. A day after Bhujbal’s nephew and former MP, Sameer, was arrested, Pawar accused the NDA government of indulging in witch-hunt. He considered the investigations into the scams of the former Deputy Chief Minster and PWD Minister in the Congress-NCP government a “gross abuse of political power to settle political scores”.
Sameer was arrested last week under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Even Bhujbal senior and his son Pankaj are under the ED scanner. The case pertains to the contract for the Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi. In 2009, a CAG report had passed strictures against the PWD. The Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau too had pegged the cumulative loss to the exchequer at Rs 2,900 crore in three different contracts given by Bhujbal to the same contractor without following procedures.
Where is the question of witch-hunt when the investigations preceded the formation of the NDA government both at the Centre and in Maharashtra? In fact, the ED had exposed the modus operandi used by the Bhujbals to launder bribes through a circuitous hawala route. The concerned hawala operator too is now in the ED net.
Given the plethora of evidence against the Bhujbals, Pawar’s defence is misplaced. But the Maratha chieftain must have his own reasons. After all, his colleagues in the NCP can have no one better to look up to than he when it comes to amassing wealth. Maybe it was Pawar’s compulsion to rise in defence of a corrupt colleague—an honest colleague, though a rarity in the NCP, wouldn’t anyway need anyone’s protection.
Incidentally, Pawar’s own nephew, Ajit Pawar, Deputy Chief Minister in the NCP-Congress government, too is under the scanner for humongous scams. You feel sorry for Pawar. For otherwise a most clued-up politician, he must be really under tremendous pressure to speak in defence of Bhujbal. Reportedly, for someone who started life as a vegetable hawker in Mumbai, Bhujbal has become enormously wealthy upon joining politics.
Meanwhile, the unnamed “MP from Maharashtra” whom Pawar accused of pursuing the corruption cases against Bhujbal—is his name Kirit Somaiya?—and the public-spirited citizen who filed the PIL in the Bombay High Court against the NCP leader are both worthy of gratitude for rising against the cancer of corruption. We need more such corruption fighters.