The Indian Analyst

Burying the Howitzer?

A Delhi High Court judge dismissed the Bofors charges filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) chiding them as a principal would his errant students saying "it is hoped that this elite investigating agency will be more responsible in the future." The CBI failed to produce the original documents that are nowhere to be found-- in Bofors Sweden, the Swedish Government, or with the Indian Government! And, this is not acceptable in Indian law that requires all documents to be produced in the original form.

Bofors is the most sought after howitzer weapon in land armies across the world. Known for his accuracy and trouble free maintenance, this Swedish company was the vendor of choice more than 15 years ago when Mr. Rajiv Clean Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Whatever be the faults heaped on him-- lack of vision, incompetence, knee-jerk decision making, lack of understanding of global issues, etc, he was by Indian standards a clean politician. So, when The Hindu published "credible documents" as evidence of kickbacks and implicated the Hindujas, a well-respected business family, the Indian public lapped it up. This was the first time the Indian media exposed to the nation political corruption at the highest level. Many Indians felt proud that India had finally emerged from its oligarchy-style of functioning democracy to a true democracy with an assertive fourth estate as envisioned by the founding fathers of the modern nation. While the investigation went on for the next 15 years, most of those accused-- the then Prime Minister, the then Defense Secretary, defense agent Win Chadha, etc. are dead. Last year, the High Court absolved Rajiv Gandhi of any culpability to this scam.

For those who are not aware, Indian politics and peoples were not so politically divided along religious, caste, language, economic, and water lines as they are today. The Bofors case brought about large scale cynicism in society. This sea change in public attitude brought to the fore undeserving politicians who capitalized on this confusion and cast the first stones of political anarchy. Interestingly, many of these politicians are part of the current ruling Federal coalition led by Rajiv Gandhi's Congress. Like what happens in public life, many jumped on the bandwagon asking for the resignation of the Government. Whatever his faults, Rajiv Gandhi being an honorable man, finally did resign. The successors nearly bankrupted the country till the serving Prime Minister, under threat from the World Bank, stepped in to reform the economy and bringing the License Raj to an end.

The kickbacks cited was Rs. 64 crores. The cost of the investigation is estimated to be about Rs. 250 crores. Therefore, by pure financial questioning, it does not take a genius to determine we have lost a tremendous amount of money. However, there are bigger questions. Why did we start the investigation? Was it to reform the defense procurement process so we can stem corruption or was it political vendetta? Was the investigation sponsored to book the guilty or was it more like a political negotiating tool? Was the CBI asked to finish the investigation or were they asked to step on and off the gas when politically convenient? Was the CBI given investigation autonomy or was it being pulled by different political puppet masters?

Unfortunately, Bofors was a convenient whipping child for everyone. For the Narashima Rao's Congress camp, this was means to keep Sonia away from the top post. For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) this was a ruse to highlight corruption in the Congress; if Mr. Rajiv Clean Gandhi was corrupt how bad are the others? For the Communists, this was a ruse to vilify the Hindujas who represented the Capitalists. VP Singh used this opportunity to claim the top post. Opportunists like Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav used Bofors to portray how "Brahmical" corruption was stealing resources and propel himself to power.  For the Sonia Congress camp, the nullification of Bofors is a means to prove the relevance of the Nehru-Indira Gandhi line as the stabilizing and incorruptible force so Sonia can be PM. For Nehru-Indira Gandhi acolytes, the demolition of the Bofors case was important to reinforce their sycophancy.

All who fished in the violent waters of Bofors won. Narashima Rao ran his full five years only to be dumped even at death and never to return. The BJP wormed its way into power and continued to use Bofors as a stick to keep the Congress away. The Communists, who continue to be bereft of new world realities, ideas, and positive intentions, continued to run Kerala and West Bengal into an economical abyss. VP Singh got what he wished for; a chance to steer the Indian economy into the rocks and Indian public life into chaos. Laloo got his wish to have an equal opportunity at embezzling the Indian economy. Interestingly now, he refuses to quit whether he is charged with embezzlement or incompetence the same charges that Rajiv Gandhi took to heart and quit responsibly. Sonia's camp is now ecstatic that soon she can stop pretending that she is not the real Prime Minister. For the dynastical sycophants of  the Congress, this is party time to caucus and come up with newer ways to placate, pander, and appease the Nehru-Indira Gandhi clan.

Caught in the middle was the CBI, the Judiciary, the Indian economy and social spending, defense procurement and national security, and development. Having lost its most high level case on technical grounds, the CBI is a discredited organization not having gotten a single conviction so far. The Judiciary at the High Court level apparently has lost its credibility too. Earlier, the BJP pointed out instances when the courts appeared to be at the behest of Congress-dominated Federal Governments. The Indian economy has suffered because monies that could have been used to raise new schools, hospitals, better roads, power, infrastructure, has been squandered like throwing water in a desert. Defense procurement is in a state of suspended animation and consequently important decisions on aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, long-range fighter aircrafts, aircraft jet trainers, etc have been submerged under political dirt. This has gotten to a point that even urgent procurements during a war, as happened during the Kargil war, is politicized. There is no inclusion of the opposition, when they decide to participate in policy making,  in decision making. Of course, inauguration of the most advanced and prestigious naval base in India by the ruling party president alone with the presence of only the ruling party members does not help.

While we are politicking, energized by a blossoming economy, China is building a huge navy, developed close relations with Myanmar and built an advanced naval outpost close to the Nicobar Islands, built a naval base near the Straits of Hormutz, and now planning to build an advanced port for Sri Lanka. Pakistan has taken advantage of our strained relations with Nepal and has now help the Royal Nepalese Army to fight the Maoist terrorists. Bangladesh is arming insurgents and terrorists to fight India and is facilitating their infiltration into north eastern India.

Indian politicians seem to forget that there is a difference between politics and governance; enemy and political rivalry; those who serve for political power and those who serve the nation in the bureaucracy, services, security, investigative agencies, and police. One cannot ask for a sea change in attitude of politicians overnight but can we at least norm as a nation in how we behave and work with each other? This is where the role of the President can be a major stabilizing force.

Since we now have Presidents who are accomplished and not political yes-men (giants among men like Messers R. Venkatraman, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Narayanan, and Abdul Kalam) can we not expect them to lead impartial inquiries and investigations? Should we not at least now move the roles of these important organizations under them? Clearly, the Constitution of the country does not allow such a role for the President. Since the Constitution is not working as it should, are we not empowered to change the Constitution as necessary?