In a democracy, scrutiny works both ways

Three errors the Modi government must not make in the Agusta Westland scam
Voices Corruption Monday, May 02, 2016 - 14:50

The blame for driving India and its institutions to the ground lies with the Congress party. The blame for allowing this party and its allies to get away with blue murder has to be shared by India’s entire political class. This means the educated, the rich, the clean and the corrupt across political lines. The result is there to see – an entire political class and apparatus is connected and accommodated in a glasshouse pretending the debris and dirt is outside.  The ringside view would be funny if it were a circus.

The Agusta Westland story is a case in point. Good journalism meets corrupt politicians and demoralised institutions, again. Beyond the bribes, the bottom line in the helicopter deal is that Indian legal authorities and prosecuting magistrates and their political masters were not up to the mark. It took a foreign jurisdiction to take the bribes call and back it up with documentary evidence. This is something India could have taken head on if political will was present. It was absent then, will it be present now?

The Agusta bribes story is a low hanging fruit for the government in Delhi and time is not on its side.  Political delay (compared to an administrative one) has historically been the death knell of investigations in India where the judiciary, the executive, Parliament and sections of the media pitch in by omission or commission to bury the truth. The Narendra Modi government is on a short leash of its own making when it comes to dealing with corruption. Remember the black money drumbeat?

Here are three Agusta Westland mistakes it must avoid to remain credible including the mother of all mistakes which is to see the invisible hand of Congress President Sonia Gandhi in every nook and corner. Yes, senior Congress party leaders must be challenged, but that exercise belongs in a court. All other ships have sailed a while ago.

The government must stop blaming others including foreign governments for domestic failures. If Italian courts have said they received little cooperation from India, it requires Indian authorities to examine the allegations with candour instead of trying to prove what is unnecessary. The government must turn Italians into allies, not adversaries – the latter is exactly what the corrupt want. If the guilty in this case are running free it is not because Italian authorities were unhelpful or evidence was scattered. If international evidence gathering, (this case also succeeded in an extradition from Switzerland) and prosecution were easy, this kind of work would be called tutti-frutti.

Secondly, the government is walking into a trap of sorts by placing the chronology of events in Parliament later this week. It’s not the chronology but the charges that are critical at this point. A rookie lawyer can tell you the more you say, the more you sink in quicksand especially when a conviction and jail sentencing in a foreign country exists. The government does not have to prove anything to others – it has to prove to itself that it has the courage to take the evidence where it belongs in India, punish the guilty and retrieve the bribes. The Congress party has already announced plans to gherao the Parliament after the government shares the timeline. Translated, expect a ruckus.

The government’s remarkably inadequate media work is in full bloom. Their mandarins in Delhi have neither the sophistication nor the talent to do what the Congress-led coalitions have perfected over the years – spin without getting caught. Copycat tactics bring parity to the table. The response has to rapid and strict far away from television studious and street theatre. Unfortunately, they are doing more of the same because they know no better. They are semi-literate about social media, they have failed to appreciate the depth and reach it can bring to governance and they are yet to grasp they the importance of new perspectives and ambitions of young Indians.

Finally, find two officers the government trusts. Two people who have the tenacity and rigour to take the documents from the Italian courts to their logical conclusion in Indian courts.  One must be a legal eagle with a sound understanding of international assistance in criminal matters and the other must be a hard-nosed political sharpshooter. Connect with international prosecutors and investigating magistrates. They are people too and their desire to clean up systems is as noble as those seeking justice in India. Nothing bothers them more than to see their hard work destroyed in India. Seek help, ally, alienate the irrelevant and govern. The Congress has given the Modi government two months to prove its case. That’s called snatching the advantage. It can be taken back with grit and determination. The world and the Indian electorate are watching all people living in glasshouses.

The evidence was in, in Bofors. The main culprits got away. The evidence is in, in Agusta Westland. Over to you, the Narendra Modi government. The world and the Indian electorate are watching.

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