Wednesday, March 14, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Website exposes govt’s shady defence deals
BJP chief Bangaru Laxman quits, Cabinet rejects George’s offer to resign
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 13
The BJP President, Mr Bangaru Laxman, tonight resigned from the post following the exposure of his alleged involvement in a defence deal by a website, even as Defence Minister George Fernandes offered to resign from the Cabinet. However, Mr Fernandes was persuaded by his Cabinet colleagues not to take any hasty decision.

Mr Laxman’s move to quit the party post came minutes after the Union Cabinet held a three-hour-long discussion on the expose and said it was prepared to inquire into the exposure involving the BJP chief, Samata Party president Jaya Jaitley and a number of senior Army officials.

The BJP President, who had termed the exposure by’s candid camera as a “well-conceived political conspiracy,” took the decision to resign after meeting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

“The government is ready and willing for a debate in Parliament on the issue and an inquiry, if necessary,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan told reporters late at night after the Cabinet meeting.

He said the government had nothing to hide. “No guilty person will be spared and no innocent person’s reputation will be allowed to be tarnished,” he said.

Mr Fernandes offered to resign from the post during the Cabinet meeting held late this evening following the exposure of several persons by, authoritative sources said.

The Defence Minister suggested that he was ready for an inquiry into all defence deals if the Opposition insisted.

Mr Bangaru Laxman, the first Dalit president of the BJP, was elected to the post last summer and was credited with attempts to give a new direction to the party by seeking to expand its social base with focus on minorities. He is understood to have told Mr Vajpayee that he is willing to face any inquiry in the matter.

The BJP chief, however, strongly denied his involvement in any arms deal and termed a “well-conceived political conspiracy” the claim of the news portal about his taking Rs 1 lakh as bribe for an arms deal.

Mr Laxman was handpicked by Mr Vajpayee ahead of Mr Jana Krishnamurthy to head the BJP especially because he is a Dalit.

However, the BJP President accepted that he did receive donations from a businessman towards party fund about two months ago, almost the same time as specified by the portal in “Operation West End.”

The clandestine operation carried out by two reporters of the site over an eight-month period claims to lay bare a sinister nexus of top politicians in the present government, serving officers and fixers.

A serving Brigadier named by the website has dismissed the allegations as absolutely baseless and said he would take “appropriate action” against the dotcom company.

The exposure has put the Vajpayee government in a quandary and the Opposition has demanded the resignation of the NDA government on “moral grounds”.

The Congress, which had to face embarrassment during the Bofors pay-off expose, has been joined by other Opposition parties in demanding the resignation of the government.

The exposure has set the stage for the confrontation of the Treasury and Opposition Benches when Parliament meets tomorrow.

Proceedings were adjourned today half-an-hour before schedule with the Opposition led by the Congress demanding a statement from the government.

The RJD and the Nationalist Congress Party has threatened to disrupt the proceedings in both houses of Parliament if the government did not resign on the issue.

Challenging the government to disprove what they described as “inscrutable evidence”, major Opposition parties said the nation’s security had been put into jeopardy and the cassettes showed the involvement of politicians in defence deals.

The Defence Ministry has procured a copy of the tape and has instituted a probe as the website’s candid camera alleged the involvement of senior defence personnel.

Soon after the three-hour-long Cabinet meeting, Mr Fernandes convened a meeting with the chiefs of the three services.

Only the Naval Chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, attended it. The Air Force and Army chiefs could not attend the meeting as they were not in town. The two services were represented by Air Marshal Vinod Patney and Lieut-Gen Vijay Oberoi, respectively.

Mr Fernandes and senior defence officers discussed the implications of the exposure by the website which alleged the involvement of defence personnel in the arms deal.

The meeting discussed the fall-out of the exposure and the politican-middlemen-defence personnel nexus alleged by the website.

Earlier, the Internet site brought out video clippings which, it claimed depicted widespread corruption in the ruling alliance.

The clippings show the presidents of two major parties in the coalition as accepting gratification from the representatives of a company wanting to sell defence equipment to India.

Besides, the clippings of the Internet site also cast a shadow on the high ranking officials of the Indian Army and the Ministry of Defence. A Major-General in the Army in charge of weapons and equipment has been video-taped while allegedly accepting Rs 1 lakh for what he said would be his contribution for ensuring that the company was among the companies shortlisted for the supply of equipment.

However, the Major-General is shown clarifying that the final decision would be taken by the ministry and the evaluation committee of which he is a member.

In the video clippings the also shows National Treasurer of the Samata Party R.K. Jain, who himself reportedly is a representative of a company involved in supplying defence equipment, claiming that some of the senior ministers in the NDA alliance could be approached and were ready to do `any work’ for a price. claims that it put in almost eight months of work in investigating the people involved in this operation which was code-named by it as “Operation West End: A Story of how the Suitcase People are compromising Indian Defence”. The dotcom has allegedly videotaped the President of the BJP, Mr Bangaru Laxman, and Samata Party’s Ms Jaya Jaitley as accepting gratification and giving assurance of helping the company in selling the defence equipment.

As per the site, Mr Bangaru Laxman took Rs 1 lakh token bribe to facilitate West End’s prospects. In a revealing meeting, he waited expectantly for another $30,000, which never came, “because we never had them”, says tehelka.

The representatives of West End who actually were the reporters of are also shown meeting Ms Jaya Jaitley, President of the Samata Party and close aide of the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, who accepted a bribe of Rs 2 lakh. The tehelka claims that the investigation leaves the Samata Party with not a leg to stand on, as its treasurer too airs all the sleazy deals of his party with great pride and glee.

According to tehelka, tragically the Army too covered itself in disgrace as a slew of generals were caught grubbing for payoffs. Among those nailed are Lieut-Gen Manjit Singh Ahluwalia, Director-General, Ordnance Supply; Major-General P.S.K. Choudhary of Weapon and Equipment; and Maj Gen Murgai, Director, Quality Assurance, who has now retired.

As per the tehelka report, other senior officers who took bribes include Brig Iqbal Singh, Prospective Procurement Officer, through whom all import purchases pass. Then Brg Anil Sehgal, Deputy Director in the DGOS, when first contacted. And then there was Additional Secretary L.M. Mehta, IAS, the number two bureaucrat in the Defence Ministry.

The tehelka website goes on to give details of a total of 27 people to whom it allegedly paid bribes. The amount of gratification ranges from Rs 5,000 to Rs 2 lakh and gold ornaments.


PM, Fernandes should resign: Congress
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 13
Claiming that the had produced incontrovertible evidence about the involvement of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra, Defence Minister George Fernandes, Samata Party President Jaya Jaitley and many respectable members of Sangh Parivar in a defence deal, the Congress said today that the senior government functionaries had no moral right to continue in office.

Reacting to the media screening of video film alleging corruption in defence deals, Congress spokesman said the video showed BJP President Bangaru Laxman receiving money physically and Ms Jaitley collecting money from people handling such deals. Mr Laxman, the spokesman, said had referred to Mr Mishras being “key person” with persons in the PMO, bureaucracy and party.

The spokesman said it would not be a hyperbole to say that such “terribly explosive evidence” had never come before against the government in the history of independent India.

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