Chopper scam puts govt on backfoot



The latest scandal featuring the purchase of Agusta Westland helicopters for Indian VVIPs has put the government on the backfoot just ahead of the crucial budget session of Parliament. While the spotlight in the media has so far been mainly on the former Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, who has denied his involvement and has sought an inquiry, the scam could lead to some more sensational disclosures in the future.

The Defence Minister, A.K.Antony has put the deal on hold till a thorough probe is conducted but the government has to do a lot more to ensure that its credibility does not go down any further. Many former officials of the armed forces want that this should not be termed as a scandal of the armed forces but if there is truth in the allegations, it is a serious matter that involves wrong doing in the Defence Ministry as well as in the Finance Ministry and some other agencies of the government. Therefore to link it only to the Indian Air Force is erroneous. In other words, the charges of huge bribes being paid as kickback money to clinch the deal are also bound to have ramifications far beyond the Indian Air Force. There has to be close scrutiny at our end of the entire process leading to the final decision and selective leaks in the media should not allow the focus to shift from a truthful and credible conclusion. If the allegations are true then the guilty must be punished.

More important, the investigations should cover the role of the top bureaucrats involved in the decision making as also politicians and various levels of the armed forces. In this particular case it appears that the Special Protection Group (SPG) had a consultancy role and this must be also put under the magnifying glass to clear them of the charges of wrongdoing. This is extremely important as the agency, which protects our Prime Minister and other VVIPs cannot be seen as being tainted in any manner.

The expose as initially reported by the Italian media before being picked up by the Indian newspapers and Channels has come at a very bad time for the UPA government which during its second innings since 2009 has been trying to stay clear of the various scams that have hit the country. It is well known that big money does change hands through middlemen in the big defence deals but the latest scandal will certainly put a huge question mark over the lack of transparency in such agreements. What is important to keep in mind is that the government of India and not the Indian Air Force penned the agreement with the manufacturers of the Choppers. Therefore all the dimensions leading to the final signing have to be kept in mind. This scam could adversely impact the ruling dispensation like the Bofors scandal had influenced the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, which the Congress led by late Rajiv Gandhi, lost.

What is very important now is that the government must come out with the truth and the guilty should be exposed. In an environment where corruption has become a nationwide issue, the people must know the truth and nothing else but the truth. But at the same time, no one should be prejudged and declared an offender. And no one should be made the fall guy to allow others to get away.

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