Subhas Chandra Pattanayak
The Central Bureau of Investigation has initiated prosecution against the Country’s former defense minister George Fernandes, who, in its probe-propelled opinion, is guilty of weakening our defense system through corruption.
Being in online journalism, it is a moment for me to celebrate because this is the first manifestation of major victory of internet media in India.
One is now reminded of the corrupt and scheming administration that Vajpayee had subjected the nation to.
Instead of acting against corruption, Vajpayee had made Tarun Tejpal and his team in tehelka.com, who had exposed that corruption, face enquiries on their method of locating news!
As is his wont, Fernandes is trying to divert public attention from his misdeeds by shouting that he is being prosecuted because of “that lady” Sonia. But in doing so he is showing his fidgetiness. Why he fidgets?
He is now bound to face the consequences of his involvement in corruptions in defense deals. The game of politics that he nastily played in the Parliament will not come to his rescue in the examination box of the concerned court of prosecution. There is no doubt in the fact that the CBI has taken a lot of time to spot his dubious deals. But it is indicative only of how shrewd is he in transacting venal ventures. Who can and for how long stop the truth from prevailing?
Tehelka tapes had made it convincingly clear that he had reduced his official residence to a dalali hub where his personal preference, the lady president of the political outfit he had formed, Ms. Jaya Jaitley was captured by camera while bargaining for and collecting bribe in the guise of donation to facilitate supply orders for defense materials. These tapes having knocked at the bottom, the CAG of India, in subsequent time, made a sample audit of defense expenditure and came out with more startling instances of corrupt practice in vogue in the Ministry of Defense under Fernandes. And, ultimately, now, the CBI has drawn up the charges.
The CBI has filed necessary FIR against Fernandes, Jaitley and former Navi Chief Sushil Kumar for alleged irregularities in purchasing of Barak system from Israel in 2000. When Fernandes maintains that the present President Mr. A.P.J.Abdul Kalam, during his tenure as Scientific Advisor to Prime Minister, had recommended the Barak system, reports reveal the opposite. According to these reports, Dr. Kalam had expressed doubts over the suitability of Barak. He even had written a letter to Fernandes in 1999 opposing the deal as the system had a 50 percent failure rate. But Kalam’s advice was ignored.
On the other hand, Bishnu Bhagwat, former Naval Chief, who was sacked by Fernandes in December 1998 because he did not favor the shady deal, has alleged that Fernandes was “highly interested” for the purchase and in order to eliminate obstacles, had gone inappropriately ahead to put his own man Sushil in the top most post of Navy. Against this backdrop, the FIR filed by CBI may be viewed as a better late than never step.
I will not, however, speculate on what would be the fate of this FIR.
But to me it occurs, justice cannot be arrived at unless enquiry is conducted into the conduct of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee vis-a-vis Fernandes.
If the later has any benefit from the unprecedented volume of purchase of defense materials in the name of Kargil war, the former had derived the principal source of his sustenance in power from the said war only.
Had there been no Kargil war, Vajpayee would never have become the third time Prime Minister of India.
In May 1999 he had lost his alliance majority after AIADMK withdrew its support at the summit of a year long misrule that was anti-people, anti-worker but pro-trader.
The Country was set to set a fresh mandate in October but due to misconceived notion of democracy, Vajpayee continued as a care taker P.M.
Normally he could not have bagged any decisive support as the people had got severely disillusioned. But an abnormal development helped him. That abnormal development was what is known as the Kargil war.
This war gave Fernandes the ground to go for questionable defense deals that are now under the scanner. This war gave Vajpayee a fresh mandate by mesmerizing people to look away from his misdeeds. This being the unread similarity between the two, one gets inclined to ask as to whether there was an extra-parliamentary link between them both? It needs to be investigated into.
The backhander deals in defense procurement video taped by tehelka.com were televised on 13th of March 2001. The whole nation was stunned. Allies of Vajpayee were ashamed of continuing their support to him. Pressure mounted on dismissal of Fernandes, but Vajpayee was reluctant to drop him or to ask him to quit. Mamata Banerjee resigned in disgust. The south Indian allies declared that it would be difficult for them to support the Government if Fernandes continues in the cabinet. Fernandes had to leave within a few days in March.
But instead of initiating action against the exposed culprits, a commission of enquiry was appointed under K. Venkataswami under the Commissions of Inquiry Act to probe into the modus operandi of Tehelka!
Fernandes played a pressure game. He did not make any remarkable allegation against the Opposition for the predicament he was thrown into. But his proteges were raising their master’s voice against Vajpayee. If their leader was not reinstated they would expose the Prime Minister and his Office (PMO), they were asserting in statements to the media.
Vajpayee succumbed to the circumstances and emitted such signals that bureaucracy which was going to provide the enquiry commission with necessary official information on the defense deals, got the impression that Fernandes was a man who was not at all away from the center of power. He was made the kingpin of NDA with the power to monitor ministries in guise of assessing manifesto implementation.
Despite this shrewd attempt of Vajpayee to enable Fernandes to wield power unfathomable enough to influence officials, the process of the proceedings of the commission of enquiry was so typical that it was felt impossible on part of bureaucracy to keep back any required document from the Commission when called for.
There was apprehension that admirers of Bishnu Bhagawat in the Navy and in the Ministry of Defense may help production of such documents before the enquiry commission that may jeopardize Fernandes.
Production of such documents before the commission may be withheld only by a Minister who can claim privilege over any document under his administrative control. Therefore, he decided to take over the Ministry of Defense without any further delay.
And, he was reinducted by Vajpayee barely six months after he had to quit in March, 2001, in the same position of defense minister!
The Venkataswami Commission was in the midst of its probe on offences exposed by tehelka.com. The Kargil Review Committee headed by K. Subrahmanyam, eminent defense study expert, appointed on 29 July 1999 to “(i) review the events leading up to the Pakistani aggression in the Kargil District of Ladakh in Jammu & Kashmir; and (ii) recommend such measures as are considered necessary to safeguard national security against such armed intrusions”, had submitted its report which was placed before the Parliament on 23 February 2000. This report had clearly shown as to how under Fernandes the defense intelligence and preparedness of the country had collapsed. The tehelka tapes had shown how under him and in his official residence defense-deal brokers and commission agents were having their heydays. He had no legitimacy to be reinducted in the same post of defense minister, at least not before submission of its report by the Venkataswami Commission. But to the astonishment, dismay and embarrassment of the entire nation, Vajpayee reappointed him as the defense minister.
The Opposition refused to accept him as such and the world witnessed the unique and historical boycott Fernandes faced from the Opposition in Parliament.
Had there been an iota of political probity in Vajpayee he would never have reinducted Fernandes as the defence minister and after facing the Opposition boycott, would never have retained him. But he reinducted and retained him. Why? What was his modus operandi? What was the compulsion? Vajpayee was questioned by the Press, was grilled by the Opposition, was looked at askance by the people over these questions. But he never answered, never clarified.
Did he succumb to blackmailing by Fernandes? If yes, what was his weakness that Fernandes was able to exploit?
Only a high power judicial probe can unveil the truth.
Till the truth is found out, speculations will continue. In fact speculations cannot be stopped.
People who love their motherland must try to know as to what was the secret bond between Vajpayee and Fernandes that prompted the Prime Minister to make a farce of parliamentary accountability by misuse of his prime-ministerial prerogative in favor of a man who was considered even by his senior colleagues as a “liability”!
Vajpayee’s conduct in re-inducting Fernandes as defense minister and in retaining him in that position in utter disregard to disapproval thereof by the people, by the Press and by the Opposition was an instance of abnormality besides being an instance of misuse of prerogative. Why Vajpayee, a very normal man known for unfailing wits, behaved so abnormally in favor of Fernandes? Why the ablest leader of the right-wing BJP, once honored as the best parliamentarian of a year in India, willfully misused his prime-ministerial prerogatives for serving the purpose of a leader of the self-styled left-winger Samata? The mystery is not yet solved. But it is a cruel mystery. And the mystery deepens in the context of Kagril.
The Kagril Review Report placed before the Parliament on 23 February 2000 fails to convince that there was a real war. It reveals that the Committee had before it a lot of evidence that the Pakistani armed intrusion in the Kargil sector had come as a complete and total surprise to the Indian Government, Army and intelligence agencies as well as to the J & K State Government. The Committee did not come across any agency or individual who was able to clearly assess before the event the possibility of a large scale Pakistani military intrusion across the Kargil heights. On the other hand, the Pak intrusion was half hazard. A number of former Army Chiefs of Staff and Director Generals of Military Operations were near unanimous in their opinion that a military intrusion on the scale attempted was totally unsustainable because of the lack of supportive infrastructure and was militarily irrational, the Committee has noted while in course of observation harping on how, whatever be the circumstances, our surveillance posts were left unmanned. So the Kargil war does not convince that it was a real serious war.
But this war helped Vajpayee in coming back to power and helped General Musharraf in becoming supremo of Pakistan. More intriguing is the fact that when the world had refused to recognise Musharraf as the new leader of Pakistan, it was only Vajpayee who had unreservedly recognized him and had felicitated him in India. Was there a secret pact between Vajpayee and Musharraf even before the mysterious Kargil war?
Mystery deepens over the fact that the Kargil war, held as India’s first video-war, had been followed by fake encounters in subsequent times. An example jumps from a June 2004 confession of some Indian soldiers that they had helped in staging fake encounters with Pakistani troops on Siachen in August 2003.
On 7 June 2004, Rifleman Shyam Bahadur Thapa had told a military court that he had not only demolished a fake “enemy-held” objective with a rocket launcher in August 2003, but also had acted as a Pakistani soldier killed in the action when video cameras were whirring away. He said that he had to do this at the behest of a company commander, Maj. Surinder Singh, who had asked him “to remove the jacket and cap and to lie there” (near the demolished objective).
Whether the order of termination and imprisonment passed against Maj. Singh was finally implemented or not is a different issue. But it established that he had documented the stage managed encounter to convince people that Pakistan had attacked us but under him our forces had annihilated the attacker. If anything, this was part of a fraud played on our people, whatsoever might have been its impact.
It also established that there was a climate in that terrain which was made congenial to fake encounters or wars when Fernandes was the defense minister and Vajpayee was in search of an escalade to fetch back votes. Then, was the Kargil war a fake war which Fernandes had organised to help Vajpayee get the escalade? Was it a secret between them two? Had Musarraf joined hands?
It cannot be ignored that Fernandes was known for his frequent trips to Siachen; at least 17 times is on records, during his tenure as defense minister. Was he really in sympathy with the soldiers or was he anxious to see that our defense personnel do not keep in mind the climate of such a fraud? Answer is yet to be found out. Answer can be found out if modus operandi of Vajpayee’s patronization to Fernandes is openly enquired into by a team of experts including criminologists and psychologists.
Looking at Vajpayee’s illogical and disproportionate patronization to Fernandes in retaining his defense minister portfolio, notwithstanding the frauds, one is inclined to suspect that unless his modus operandi in continuing this patronization or his acquiescence into extending this patronization is enquired into, the gamut of the background of the defense-deal offences that Fernandes is charged with will not be fully discovered and hence the history of the relevant period shall remain blurred for ever.
Therefore, in national interest, and in the interest of Indian sub-continent, Vajpayee should be enquired into in the context of Fernandes.