Corruption is back as the big talking point in Indian politics. But interestingly enough, the charges this time around are not being levelled by the opposition against the powers that be. On the contrary, it is the government of the day which is seeking to capitalise on a scrapped defence deal against the principal opposition party.
The controversial VVIP chopper contract was awarded to the UK-based AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian parent company Finmeccanica, in 2010 and the first lot of three of the dozen helicopters ordered arrived in 2012. But charges of bribery soon came up in Italian courts and in February 2013 Italian police arrested Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi on charges of paying bribe worth Rs 362 crore to Indian middlemen to secure the Rs 3,500 odd crore (560 million euro) contract. The UPA government, already reeling under charges of several major scams, cancelled the contract and ordered a CBI probe into the scam.
Now, on the basis of reported disclosures emanating from Italy, the BJP is seeking to make the chopper scam the biggest issue for parliamentary debate when it has little to show by way of progress of investigations by Indian agencies. The BJP would like us to believe as though we were still in 2013 with the UPA in power and the BJP in opposition! The discussion on the AgustaWestland scam has in fact raised disturbing questions not just for the Congress, but also for the BJP and about the Congress-BJP continuum and convergence on issues of corruption and cover-up. The former chief of the Air Force Mr. SP Tyagi, one of the key accused, has also been closely associated with the BJP think-tank Vivekananda Foundation. The decision to lower the flying altitude of the helicopter is now being attributed to Brajesh Mishra during the Vajpayee era.
Instead of ensuring an expeditious and transparent resolution of the scam through a time-bound probe monitored by the Supreme Court, the BJP is flogging the AgustaWestland horse to divert the people’s attention from the glaring failures of the government on the economic front and the ongoing assault on democracy in the country. When millions of farmers are reeling under severe drought and people are dying for a drop of water, when the central government has been judicially indicted for misusing the Constitution to ride roughshod on the spirit of federalism and democracy, when students across the country are fighting against the ongoing saffron witch-hunt and Sanghi hijacking of institutions, the BJP talks only about AgustaWestland or Modi’s degrees, which according to the AAP is the biggest issue facing the country at the moment!
Ironically, while Parliament debates the chopper scam or Modi’s degrees, the mother of all scams is being perpetrated in the banking sector of India. We all saw how Vijay Mallya was allowed to fly away to London after robbing more than a dozen Indian banks of a staggering Rs. 9000 crore. A bigger scam is the amount being routinely written off by the banks themselves. Dr. Kamalesh Chandra Chakrabarty, a former Deputy Governor of RBI and former chairman of Bank of Baroda and Pun jab National Bank has termed it the “biggest scandal of the century”. According to him as much as Rs 3.5 lakh crore have been written off in the past 15 years through so-called ‘technical write-offs’, Rs 1.14 lakh crore in just last three years between 2013 and 2015. The write-offs include the revealing case of one Siddhi Vinayak Logistics Limited which made logistical arrangements for Narendra Modi’s 3D campaign in the 2014 LS elections.
Despite explicit instruction of the Supreme Court, the RBI is yet to make public the list of wilful corporate defaulters, but we know the names of the big borrowers of India’s corporate world. The Hindu has recently published details of outstanding bank loans held by top corporate houses. The top twelve borrowers comprise Mukesh Ambani (Rs 1,87,070 crore), Anil Ambani (Rs 1,24,956 crore), Ruia Brothers of Essar Group (Rs 1,01,461 crore), Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Group (Rs 1,03,340 crore), Gautam Adani (Rs 96,031 crore), Cyrus Mistry of Tata Steel (RS 80,701 crore), Manoj Gaur of Jaypee Group (Rs 75,163 crore), Sajjan Jindal (Rs 58,171 crore), LM Rao of Lanco Group (Rs 47,102 crore), GM Rao of GMR Group (Rs 47,976 crore), VN Dhoot of Videocon Group (Rs 45,400 crore) and GVK Reddy of GVK Group (Rs 33,933 crore). Just add up the amounts, and we can see how India’s top corporates are making merry atop a debt mountain of more than Rs 10 lakh crore!
Add to this the arrears and exemptions – the CAG says over 96% of the Rs 7 lakh crore outstanding direct tax dues are difficult to recover while central excise revenue exemptions in 2014-15 reached a whopping Rs. 1.85 lakh crore – and the picture of India’s crony capitalism, i.e., public-funded corporate festival, becomes truly alarming. It has been pointed out in media reports that the Adani group’s debt equals the total debt of India’s farmers. And what makes this equivalence truly morbid is that while more than 3 lakh farmers have been crushed by this debt burden, Adani’s debt has grown joyfully alongside the political fortunes of his friend Mr Narendra Damodardas Modi whose flight to power was completed in a private Adani jet. And the latter is now about to complete his first two years in office.
While confronting the vicious communal politics of the Sangh brigade we must never lose sight of this crony corporate essence of the Modi dispensation. On the 159th anniversary of the great 1857 uprising, we must invoke the spirit of ownership of the country that the young ideologue of the uprising, Azimullah Khan, had invoked in his beautiful song of harmony and freedom: ‘Hum hain iske malik, Hindustan hamara’ (we are the owners of this land, this India is ours) to save and reclaim India from the clutches of the corporate-communal destroyers.