Thursday, March 15, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


S P E C I A L   E D I T O R I A L

System is corrupt, nothing fake about it!
Hari Jaisingh

Wheeling-dealing in defence purchases has been a known fact. The infamous Bofors deal in the late eighties was very much a product of a corrupt system thriving in this country irrespective of the party or parties in power. The Tehelka “expose” has shown that it is business as usual even under the dispensation of the National Democratic Alliance. There is nothing like Left corruption or Right corruption. Politicians of all hues and their collaborators these days covet black money and love to make a fast buck. The nexus between big money and the corrupt at the helm has been practically formalised. Even the fig-leaf has been removed in such operations. The question here is not of the quantum of the payoff in a non-existent deal but of the larger issue of allowing a corrupt system to thrive.

The Tehelka revelation once again underlines the nexus between commission agents, political executives, bureaucrats and the defence forces officers, notwithstanding the prevalent rules that do not recognise the presence of middlemen in this sensitive area.

It is no secret that politicians and government officials are involved in seller and buyer countries and are hired and paid by weapons manufacturers to facilitate the clinching of a deal that often runs into hundreds of crores of rupees. “Kickbacks”, for that matter, are part of the international business scene. Agents and sub-agents operate globally and they create their own islands of influence for kickbacks and commissions. What comes as a shock is that things have not changed in the Ministry of Defence even 14 years after the Bofors payoff controversy. Everything looks an eyewash. Lessons are not learnt.

Who is responsible for this? Why hasn’t the Prime Minister and his team given a serious thought to this matter? Why haven’t they initiated concrete steps to plug the loopholes? As it is, the Kargil conflict also showed the vulnerability of the system. Indeed, corruption has become the order of the day.

How do we deal with the situation? First, it needs to be pointed out that stalling the proceedings of Parliament, as being done by the Congress and other Opposition parties, is not the answer. People want an honest debate and a viable institutional arrangement to plug the loopholes in the system of defence purchases.

Second, all those who have figured in this fictitious deal must be thrown out so that the right message gets conveyed to those who run the government. Mr Bangaru Laxman, who has bowed out of office as BJP president, may now think of taking political sanyas. Similarly, Ms Jaya Jaitley need to quit public life. Her links with the Defence Minister, Mr George Fernandes, are publicly known. This indirectly implicates Mr Fernandes. Hasn’t he lost the moral authority to remain as Defence Minister? The other functionaries who figure in the non-existent deal do give us jitters. Their involvement shows the extent to which things have deteriorated.

Third, as an elder statesman, the Prime Minister must show that he means business. We expect him to take the people into his confidence about the state of affairs. In public life, we cannot allow corrupt persons to play with the nation’s interests. The message from the website “expose” is clear and categorical. The Tehelka drama might be “fake”, but corruption is not. It is part of the system. Secrecy pertaining to crucial national security cannot be a facade for dubious defence deals. Corruption cannot be tackled as an exercise in shadow-boxing. It is time the country took solid measures towards establishing a clean and transparent system — and that too as part of a well-knit institutional arrangement.

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