Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Preet Bharara Replies

US Attorney Preet Bharara defends action against Devayani Khobragade IFS (Full Text)
I had blogged on this issue and append this piece to my blog for the benefit of those who haven’t heard of US Attorney of India origin Mr.Preer Bharara’s views on the subject while Indian media and many who watch/read them hate him as anti-Indian. (T M Menon - 25th December 2013)
There has been much misinformation and factual inaccuracy in the reporting on the charges against Devyani Khobragade. It is important to correct these inaccuracies because they are misleading people and creating an inflammatory atmosphere on an unfounded basis. Although I am quite limited in my role as a prosecutor in what I can say, which in many ways constrains my ability here to explain the case to the extent I would like, I can nevertheless make sure the public record is clearer than it has been thus far.

First, Ms. Khobragade was charged based on conduct, as is alleged in the Complaint, that shows she clearly tried to evade U.S. law designed to protect from exploitation the domestic employees of diplomats and consular officers. Not only did she try to evade the law, but as further alleged, she caused the victim and her spouse to attest to false documents and be a part of her scheme to lie to U.S. government officials. So it is alleged not merely that she sought to evade the law, but that she affirmatively created false documents and went ahead with lying to the U.S. government about what she was doing. One wonders whether any government would not take action regarding false documents being submitted to it in order to bring immigrants into the country. One wonders even more pointedly whether any government would not take action regarding that alleged conduct where the purpose of the scheme was to unfairly treat a domestic worker in ways that violate the law. And one wonders why there is so much outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian national accused of perpetrating these acts, but precious little outrage about the alleged treatment of the Indian victim and her spouse?

Second, as the alleged conduct of Ms. Khobragade makes clear, there can be no plausible claim that this case was somehow unexpected or an injustice. Indeed, the law is clearly set forth on the State Department website. Further, there have been other public cases in the United States involving other countries, and some involving India, where the mistreatment of domestic workers by diplomats or consular officers was charged criminally, and there have been civil suits as well. In fact, the Indian government itself has been aware of this legal issue, and that its diplomats and consular officers were at risk of violating the law. The question then may be asked: Is it for U.S. prosecutors to look the other way, ignore the law and the civil rights of victims (again, here an Indian national), or is it the responsibility of the diplomats and consular officers and their government to make sure the law is observed?

Third, Ms. Khobragade, the Deputy General Consul for Political, Economic, Commercial and Women’s Affairs, is alleged to have treated this victim illegally in numerous ways by paying her far below minimum wage, despite her child care responsibilities and many household duties, such that it was not a legal wage. The victim is also alleged to have worked far more than the 40 hours per week she was contracted to work, and which exceeded the maximum hour limit set forth in the visa application. Ms. Khobragade, as the Complaint charges, created a second contract that was not to be revealed to the U.S. government, that changed the amount to be paid to far below minimum wage, deleted the required language protecting the victim from other forms of exploitation and abuse, and also deleted language that stated that Ms. Khobragade agreed to “abide by all Federal, state, and local laws in the U.S.” As the Complaint states, these are only “in part” the facts, and there are other facts regarding the treatment of the victim – that were not consistent with the law or the representations made by Ms. Khobragade -- that caused this Office and the State Department, to take legal action.

Fourth, as to Ms. Khobragade’s arrest by State Department agents, this is a prosecutor’s office in charge of prosecution, not the arrest or custody, of the defendant, and therefore those questions may be better referred to other agencies. I will address these issues based on the facts as I understand them. Ms. Khobragade was accorded courtesies well beyond what other defendants, most of whom are American citizens, are accorded. She was not, as has been incorrectly reported, arrested in front of her children. The agents arrested her in the most discreet way possible, and unlike most defendants, she was not then handcuffed or restrained. In fact, the arresting officers did not even seize her phone as they normally would have. Instead, they offered her the opportunity to make numerous calls to arrange personal matters and contact whomever she needed, including allowing her to arrange for child care. This lasted approximately two hours. Because it was cold outside, the agents let her make those calls from their car and even brought her coffee and offered to get her food. It is true that she was fully searched by a female Deputy Marshal -- in a private setting -- when she was brought into the U.S. Marshals’ custody, but this is standard practice for every defendant, rich or poor, American or not, in order to make sure that no prisoner keeps anything on his person that could harm anyone, including himself. This is in the interests of everyone’s safety.

Fifth, as has been reported, the victim’s family has been brought to the United States. As also has been reported, legal process was started in India against the victim, attempting to silence her, and attempts were made to compel her to return to India. Further, the Victim’s family reportedly was confronted in numerous ways regarding this case. Speculation about why the family was brought here has been rampant and incorrect. Some focus should perhaps be put on why it was necessary to evacuate the family and what actions were taken in India vis-à-vis them. This Office and the Justice Department are compelled to make sure that victims, witnesses and their families are safe and secure while cases are pending.

Finally, this Office’s sole motivation in this case, as in all cases, is to uphold the rule of law, protect victims, and hold accountable anyone who breaks the law – no matter what their societal status and no matter how powerful, rich or connected they are.

Friday, December 20, 2013

India-US Diplomatic spat

India-US Diplomatic spat
This morning’s newspapers too carried articles tom-toming the case of Devayani Khobragade arrested in the US on two counts – falsely declaring almost 3 times the wages she had actually contracted a poor Indian maid from Delhi to work for her, and also meting out inhuman treatment to the living-in domestic making her work for up to 19hours per day! The maid sought legal help from US leading to the arrest of the diplomat. One article with a headline screaming the demand for dropping charges against the Indian diplomat as well as seeking unconditional apology from the US government had this photograph of women holding placards inscribed “USA Govt. Be Sensitive to Women” as they protested in New Delhi. WOMEN?

The main reasons for round-the clock media reports on the case, the non-stop panel discussions on TV and the government and politicians of all hues being on the side of the 39-year old Devayani Khobragade were that she was a ‘young’ woman, belonging to the prestigious IFS, and a Dalit to boot! There are geniuses who argue that Khobragade cannot afford the minimum wages prescribed for similar work in the US, i.e. $9.75 which sort of justifies fixing a private deal with poor Mrs. Sangeeta Richard which according to  US Attorney Preet Bharara, went like this: Devayani Khobragade, an IFS officer of the rank of Dy. Consul General of India while claiming in US visa documents that the worker would be paid $4,500 a month, had the maid sign a second contract, not revealed to the U.S. government, which settled the monthly salary at Rs 30,000 (approx $500 - $600). In plain language this is Visa fraud. When the poor maid files a complaint that she was forced to work for up to 19 hours per day, the offense compounds to an even greater violation of human rights! Here in India the rich and influential do much worse, sometimes unbilled sexual exploitation thrown in to the one-sided bargain. You may blame the Capitalist Satan for all the dirty deeds in the world and organise morchas carrying placards with worse things inscribed on them. But there, in this case, I think all right-thinking wo/men should spare a thought for the poor made who has no wires to pull in India, and her employer could file a quick “counter-case” in India, and move a High Court to issue an order prohibiting her from seeking legal remedy abroad! God, we are indeed a banana republic! Pigs can be slaughtered, but they can’t even squeal.

From published records one could easily be suspicious about the behaviour of Devayani Khobragade if not arrive at a conclusion that this brilliant woman of high pedigree could be economical with truth when she chose to... She had filed a statement with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), admitting to own as of 31 March 2012, 11 properties, including flats and land in Maharashtra, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, some of them as 'inherited' from her father(Uttam Khobragade, a controversial former IAS officer), and others purchased by her. Her declared salary was Rs.50350 (including grade pay) per month, and generated a monthly revenue of Rs.2.26 lakh per annum from her immovable properties. The total value of her assets as per this statement filed with her employer MEA is Rs1.78 crore besides three tracts of land inherited from or gifted to her by her father. But according to the present market value, her properties may be worth more than Rs.6 crore as her 1,000 sq ft in the controversial Adarsh Coop Housing Society (Adarsh CHS) in Mumbai alone is estimated to be worth about Rs.4 crore. Devayaniji claims she bought the flat in Adarsh CHS for Rs.90 lakh from the proceeds of the sale of a flat in Meera Coop Housing Society at Oshiwara in Mumbai which is a plain cock-and-bull story.  A Colaba flat would any day cost about three times as much as one located at Oshiwara.

Devayani’s father Uttam Singh Khobragade was the Chief Executive and vice president of Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority between 2000-02 and 2004-05. In 2006, she purchases a non-agriculture plot measuring 5,000 sq ft at Alibag from the MHADA which is listed in her affidavit to MEA as worth Rs10 lakh - an understatement  to the tune of 80% at its current market price.

Indian deputy consul general Devyani Khobragade obviously has a record filing false statements back home before being accused and arrested in the US for filing false documents to obtain a visa for her housekeeper, and of paying her $3.13 an hour, about one-third the federal minimum wage.

The Indian MEA has demanded an official apology from the US for shameful treatment of a senior Indian diplomat and the Home Ministry went to the extent of removing security barriers around the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, also withdrawing airport access passes for U.S. diplomats and demanded return of their IDs. Knowing perhaps they are on slippery ground legally, The MEA has not only promoted Devayani to a higher rank enjoying the diplomatic immunity she lacks currently, and moving also to the UN! (The Hindu editorially condemned this move: "That the government chose instead to transfer Ms. Khobragade to India’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, with a view to enhancing her immunity, is questionable and casts India’s claim of a nation ruled by law in poor light." Yes indeed! The most stupid move from the MEA is checking on the salaries the US Missions pay in India! In the anxiety to do something to save face, they forgot that the US Missions cannot be expected to pay US rates here; we can blame them if they pay less than the market rates/minimum-wages here!

With regard to the allegation of ill-treatment going round in the media the US Marshals Service clarified in a press release that Khobragade was handled according to “standard arrestee intake procedures” for the Southern District of New York. A strip search, examination of body cavities and the possible use of restraints other than handcuffs such as waist chains and shackles, are automatic, non-discriminatory and legal post-arrest procedures in the US, So also,detaining her with other female prisoners while she awaited handling of her case.

Interestingly, the case is handled by Preetinder Singh (Preet) Bharara an Indian American attorney and the current U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. We might recollect that the Time magazine named him in 2012 as one of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World," He is also known for “Busting Wall Street" for prosecuting and convicting famous Indians like Rajat Gupta and  Raj Rajaratnam. Interestingly, there are people in India who argue now that Barara is anti-Indian! I would assume that he is a great lawyer. From what we understand from his current behaviour, Salman Khurshid, who had taught law for a few years at the Trinity College, Oxford, and is now India’s Minister for External Affairs, has neither the legal skill to beat Barara nor the Diplomatic finesse to move matters smoothly. On top of it his party is trying to get some glory fighting the most powerful country on earth. But others don’t seem to allow the GoP to walk away with it all, the BJP and even the pathetic political rumps like the CI and the CPM are chipping in with anti-American vitriol. Misplaced outrage over an inconsequential diplomatic spat and responding with an escalating and strangely petty series of reprisals is pushing India to ridiculous brinkmanship close to persuading US to mumble "go to hell" and proceed with the normal legal actions against the Indian diplomat. The Only thing on Devayani’s side and India’s at this stage, is the Obama Administration’s reluctance to push matters back to the days of “estranged democracies”  thanks to Indian’s largeness and of course, our democracy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


“Knowledge acquired out of English is not harmful but the Anglicization penetrated into the youth is dangerous”, said BJP chief Rajnath Singh as he bemoaned the system of education introduced by the British in India eroding our cultural values and stymieing the growth of Sanskrit in the Country. The ToI report of this news on July 20th, 2013 averred that it was not in keeping with the commitment to “modern social order and dynamic growth” BJP projected. Rational prejudice – the kind of hostility towards certain ideas rooted in a well-defined ideology is very much in display in the newspaper report.
“All that was good and living within us was made, shaped and quickened by…British rule” Nirad C Chaudhuri, the brilliant though controversial writer had opined. Nradbabu, however, found that the anglicised upper-middle class leadership of the ruling Congress party “weak in character, mediocre in intellectual ability, and totally lacking idealism and public spirit”. I am sure those who run the ToI News Network do not want to share that view!
But then there was nothing contrarian in the BJP chef’s opinion. In fact it was something which every second politician, social scientist, educationist and economist in this country has been airing since Independence. Mulayam Singh Yadav had always vowed to work against the use of English in education and even computers and hopes that abolition of "expensive education in English" would create a level playing field for all and less use of computers would generate jobs. The Samajwadi Party is a supporter of the UPA Government, the harbinger of “dynamic growth” in India. The Communists had opposed computers for 25 years!
During the Freedom struggle, most stalwarts of the Independence movement had asserted that free India that is Bharat will have a National Language of its own, and experiment with the educational system Gandhiji envisioned (Nai Talim - Basic Education) and not Macaulay’s system prevalent in the British India. In an interview Gandhiji had said: “To give millions knowledge of English is to enslave them. The foundation that Macaulay laid of education has enslaved us.” In his view, the schools and colleges were only factories for turning out clerks for British Government. He foresaw that in such an educational system Indian children would be alienated from their cultural template and 'career-based thinking' would become dominant. That is what eventually happened! The products of the high-voltage English-medium Convent education come out as arrogant, self-seeking, and self-serving brats who visibly lacked the proverbial Indian tolerance of oddities and broadness of sympathy. I remember somebody writing that English is less of a language than an operating system like Windows. S/He also pointed out that speaking and writing good English ensures 300% higher employment outcomes for entry-level jobs! S/He was not indeed arguing against mother tongues, but presenting a case for being multilingual. Point taken.
It may be relevant to add here that while the Gandhian Basic system was running, it was reported that compared to the English Medium Schools, the children in Basic Schools were more active, cheerful, self-reliant, with well-developed power of self-expression. They were found to be acquiring habits of co-operative work and social prejudices were breaking down.
 An honest review of the statements of even the ruling elite of the Nehruvian era and thereafter too will reveal that this was a kind of collective anxiety of the nation – that the uncontrolled invasion by the Western civilization would engulf our cherished values.
The Father of our Nation said once: “I am and I have been a determined opponent of modern civilization. I want you to turn your eyes today upon what is going on in Europe and if you have come to the conclusion that Europe is today groaning under the heels of modern civilization, then you and your elders will have to think twice before you can emulate that civilization in our Motherland. But I have been told: "How can we help it, seeing that our rulers bring that culture to our Motherland?" Do not make any mistake about it at all. I do not for one moment believe that it is for any rulers to bring that culture to you unless you are prepared to accept it, and if it be that the rulers bring that culture before us, I think that we have forces within ourselves to enable us to reject that culture.”(Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, pp. 312, 313; 27-4-15) He continues elsewhere: “Of all the superstitions that affect India, none is so great as that a knowledge of the English language is necessary for imbibing ideas of liberty, and developing accuracy of thought.”
Gandhiji’s warnings against the British Education system were prophetic. The educational system his “truant and errant” political disciple allowed to run in India was a continuation of the British one. The results are for everyone to see: It made them see western education as superior and destroyed the pride they in their own languages and culture. Perhaps that is what makes the English language and the British sysstem of education dear to so-called liberal-Left combine who have largely abandoned connections with the nation’s deeper meaning system. Macaulay had openly claimed that the major goal of his system of education was disintegration of the coherent Hindu social ethos…Eventually English education, particularly imparted by the Convents, taught Indians self-contempt. The syllabi and the teaching persuaded native Indians the ideals of Western civilization, and made them despise every other, particularly their own. Particularly, the political left has by and large abandoned Indian history, tradition, and culture, perhaps in pursuit of their lopsided agenda for “fundamentally transforming Indian society”.
Reporting the discovery of several Urdu Gazals Veer Savarkar wrote during his 11-year incarceration in the Andaman Jail, the ToI reporter couldn’t withhold her ‘view’: ….”there is much surprise that Savarkar has written in fluent Urdu, a language considered unlikely for the champion of political Hindutva.” Urdu, was indeed the socio-administrative requirement of Muslim conquerors who plundered, pillaged and looted before deciding to settle down around Delhi. Urdu drew its vocabulary mostly from Turkish, Persian and Arabic. While Persian was the official language of Mughals, it was the British who made Urdu the lingua franca in northern India since 1837. Naturally, the Hindu elite too chose to learn and speak Urdu along with the Muslims then. It is said however, that linguistic supremacy of Urdu, a rootless wonder, imposed over regional languages became a permanent source of irritant for the Hindus. The founder of Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, was so obsessed with Urdu, that he projected it as a symbol of Muslim domination over the cultural and linguistic identity of India. Savarkar was not against Urdu as a language, but as a symbol of this kind. After the establishment of Pakistan, Urdu was declared as the language of “100 million Muslims”. In hostile symbiosis with this attitude Hindu nationalist began to move towards Sanskritised Hindi which the South Indians happen to grasp easily too. When the Indian Muslim League and all the Communal Muslims speak against our National Language and support Urdu, and Communists and the so-called liberal-Left politicians back them, it becomes difficult for the “Hindu nationalists” to applaud.
It was obviously Rajnath Singh’s reference to the richness of Sanskrit language and about the poor state of affairs of the “Mother of all our languages” in India that is Bharat, which irritated the “secular” ToI News Network. Let me remind them, Sir Monier-Williams (1819-1899) an Orientalist, professor of Sanskrit at Oxford in his book Hinduism, and no pro-Hindu nationalist described Sanskrit as “the only vehicle of Hindu mythology, philosophy, law, the mirror in which all the creeds, opinions, and customs and usages of the Hindus are faithfully reflected and the only quarry whence the requisite materials may be obtained for improving the vernaculars or for expressing important religious and scientific ideas."
Jawaharlal Nehru wrote "The Sanskrit language… is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either: yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs, and in the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all without believing them to have sprung from some common source which perhaps no longer exists..."(source: Discovery of India - p 165). Prime Minister Nehru said many times that the soul of India resided in this ancient language and its literature. I suppose every Indian could feel proud of this language, and feel sorry that we are unable to do to it what Israel did to a defunct language like Hebrew. Do they not use Hebrew at all levels of teaching and learning? Don’t Russians, Germans, the French, Japanese and Chinese have their own languages as medium of instruction in all educational institutions and still have dynamism in every sphere?
It does not escape the attention of readers of Time of India that this paper for quite some time it has been on BJP-bashing job; almost every day devoting one or two of the 3-piece editorial, and in every news report the paper’s official views interpolated into the text. In the past, BJP’s promise if elected to rule the country, to ensure “progressive and equitable ingredients of all personal laws”  to be picked while drawing up a Uniform Civil Code for all Indians was misrepresented an effort to impose the will of Hindus on the Muslims in India. Ridiculous comparative survey reports are released day by day to belittle Gujarat’s economic progress. ToI economist had the gumption to write about the Naroda-Patiya judgement as delivered by Gujarat High Court and get away with it! Unfortunately, such news-views mix are “mainstreamed”; and the perceived effect of such “mainstreaming” is a convergence of political attitudes into a core position that is either anti-nationalist or skewed to Left or anti-national!
I have always thought that The Times Of India was in the “business” of printing news and making money. When did they begin to adopt “Colonel” McCormick’s maxim “its our job to print news and raise hell”? Is it “proprietorial pique” that is reason for the obvious and constant bias?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Choppergate and beyond…
More often than not, lesser pain appears to vanish when you experience more excruciating new suffering. In the current political context the Union Government is benefitted from the terrible cycle of terror unleashed by Islamic terrorists wreaking vengeance for their brother hung on the gallows for the heinous attack on Indian parliament. News hawks tearing the government for yet another corruption in the purchase of a squadron of VVIP helicopters from Italy have shifted their attention to the horrendous story of Bomb blasts in Hyderabad. The news media has done this before: they had almost abandoned the humongous 2G and Coalgate scams involving corruption sucking billions of rupees from the nation’s coffers to go after a newer scam which involved only $556 million. While I regret the expression, the Hyderabad blasts are a Godsend to the UPA government in the sense the human calamity will be less one-sided as a target of attack on it. For all you know, the news media will not even do the follow-up stories on the corruption issues  as long as they have a surfeit of morbid stories on the human calamities following the serial blasts over two days, and God forbid, yet to come.

I am on the choppergate now and wish to do some probing, even as the Prime Minister, his cabinet colleagues and Congress party spokespersons take pains to explain that the Agusta Westland investigation as a time-consuming and almost hopeless pursuit. Some have already blamed for Defence Minister AK Antony for moving to scrap the copter deal, without consulting the Cabinet Committee on Security, and the PMO. News is leaking that Italy has refused to cooperate because their “judicial process is going on”. I was just wondering whether it is not in the interest of this Union government that Italy refuses to cooperate for ever on this issue. Was anybody like Madhav Singh Solanki was sent with a note to the Italian authorities not to cooperate with the CBI as was done in the case of the Bofors scam? Why this sudden offer for a JPC? Who does not know what happens when a JPC with a majority of members from the UPA and their allies sit in judgement when the Government machinery is the accused?

This is particularly relevant when we know that the CBI probe into the Coalgate scam involving Rs.1.86lakh crores is stalled Coal Ministry, (still under the PM?) is not delivering files asked for by the investigative agency. This is what Ranjit Sinha tells the Parliament’s Accounts Committee (PAC). Meanwhile the CBI’s Senior Public Prosecutor was caught on tape helping the key accused, CEO Sanjay Chandra of Unitech, boasting about “muddling the matters” wherever possible, coaching him and guiding him how to counter CBI legal moves.

A newspaper close to the Government reported all of a sudden on 19th February that the Union Government indeed had smelt a rat “months ago” and “petitioned Rome 6 times over the chopper deal, something which not even the Ministry of Defence press release a few days earlier had mentioned! Another newspaper had a front-page report of Minister for External Affairs Salman Khurshid opposing the scrapping of the Agusta Westland copter lead, for the purported reason of such a decision affecting the “defence preparedness of the country”! Who is he to worry about defence preparedness more than the Defence Minister himself?  There are indeed many others who spread the story that cancellation of the copter deal by Defence Minister will be a “big set back” to the IAF. They forget that the VVIP helicopters are not essential weaponry for the defence forces. There must be a lot of heartburn in New Delhi’s corruption circuit because the Finmeccanica and their agents have in the pipeline some $8 billion (Rs.44000Cr) worth Indian contracts which they might lose if AK Antony has his way!

It was in 2010 that Government of India decided to purchase 12 Agusta Westland AW101 helicopters for ferrying around the Prez, the PM and other dignitaries at the cost of Rs.3546Cr ($556 million). The helicopters are manufactured in the Yevil factory in UK.  Italian Prosecutors suspect payment of more than Rs.450Cr to middlemen as bribes and Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi was arrested on corruption charges. Agusta Chief Bruno Spagnolini is under house arrest. Former Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi’s relatives, Sandip, Julie and Dosca are named as beneficiaries by the Italian Prosecutor. The Italian middlemen under arrest assert that they met Tyagi 6/7 times, including at the Bangalore airshow, and at the offices of his cousins. Italian investigators suspect and investigative reporters allege that a kick back of 51 million euros (Rs.350Cr) was paid out directly and some 30 million euros was routed through Christian Michel, a UK-based middleman and confidant of Orsi, the Finmeccanica CEO.

Meanwhile, it is known that a Chandigarh-based Software firm, IDS Infotech routed Rs.140Cr bribes in Mother India through a fake-deal in IT services to Agusta Westland. IDS Infotech does not show up in Ministry of Corporate Affairs records. The Minister-in-charge may not want to have it on records, if I were him. The fact is that IDS hived off a subsidiary, Aeromatrix which had as directors, Guido Ralph Haschke and Carlos Gerosa, a Delhi-based advocate Gautam Khaitan and one Pravin Bakshi who was also an executive VP in IDS. Here enters the coal-scam tainted former Union Minister of State, and Congress leader Santosh Bagrodia’s brother Satish as another director of IDS Infotech. To create further confusion, there is talk of a lion’s share of the kick-back going to “the family”. Sounds like the ‘G’ in Bofors scam?

ACM Tyagi distinctly remembers now that he met the middlemen after retirement! Tyagi also cleverly tried an escape route instigating Congress-led government to deflect the needle of suspicion to NDA government and spin a scam out of in the opposite direction saying that the technical parameters were tweaked to favour Westland by Vajpayee PMO in 2003, though the tenders were floated in 2006, finalised in 2007 and the deal was inked in 2010 when Pranab Mukherjee was the Defence Minister in the UPA government! Tyagi had almost succeeded in triggering a major political storm in Delhi, when unfortunately for him, a day after Tyagi’s above statement, the present Defence Minister being an honest person, a Defence Ministry press release on 14.2.2013 said that the tender requirements for the helicopters were “deliberated at length” between March 2005 and September 2006 before changer in the specifications made, which fits with the Italian investigator’s claim! A preliminary report of 64 pages filed in the tribunal of Busto Arsizio city after arresting Orsi and Spagnolini, the Italian investigators have named ACM SP Tyagi (who was IAF Chief from January 2005 to December 2007) as beneficiary of an undisclosed amount to be routed through his cousins. Middlemen claim that they met Tyagi in his office, influenced him to change terms, and the ACM went on briefing them thereafter on all developments. There seems to be perfect logic and a lot of circumstantial evidence to assume that ‘the Italians took money, kin route to air chief’ as a national newspaper’s banner headline said on the front page.

Finmeccanica the holding company of Agusta Westland bagged the Indian business in February 2010  beating rival US firm Sikorsky, the better-known manufacturer of military choppers on the ground that Sikorsky machines cannot reach the “operational ceiling” od 18000 feet; but for clearing Agusta Westland this was quietly tweaked to 15000 feet, just 500 feet higher than Sikorsky!

A national News TV Channel had broken the news on the kickbacks a year back following which BJP MP Prakash Javadedkar had written to the Defence Minister regarding the 51 million euros commission paid to one Guido Ralph Haschke to facilitate the deal in India. It is very similar to Ottavio Quattrocchi, a Country Manager of Snam Projetti based in Delhi getting 3% commission for Indian Army’s purchase of Howitzers made by Bofors of Sweden.

“When the bribe-giver has been caught, why can’t the bribe-taker be identified?” asks BJP’s Arun Jaitley. Don’t you remember, Mr.Jaitley, speaking to the CBI officers and anti-corruption establishment of the country recently, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh had told them that what was needed was to focus on the ‘Supply side of corruption”. And that side could be expected not to open up to us! I was astonished as the BJP escaped the allegation of wrong-doing imputed by former ACM Tyagi, thanks to the Defence Ministry’s own press release, former BJP Defence Minister Jaswant Singh, the man who speaks in capital letters, as they say, tried to support ACM (retd) Tyagi to the extent of holding the view that Brajesh Mishra had the specs changed! Jaswant Singh however, clarifies that former NSA had taken the decision to avoid a single-vendor situation. For Jaswant “guilt through association” doesn’t exist and Tyagi is likely to be innocent! That is not the impression we get from the investigations in Italy…Perhaps Jaswant Singh has forgotten the example of the Nandas, the Khannas, and the Choudhries of the past. Would Jaswant benefit of doubt to former coal minister Santosh Bagrodia too?

Perhaps the Indian defence system fails to plug the holes in the system despite the series of scandals over defence purchases during the last three or four decades. Defence Ministers like Jagjivan Ram, Sharad Pawar and Moolayam Sigh Yadav have been named in controversies over assets and incomes far exceeding their known sources of income. The “integrity pacts” and prohibition over engagement of agents and the tall talk of transparency have been only for the consumption of the gullible public, it appears. It may be noted that if they have no agents they may employ Managers connected with the potential customers. US copter firm Sikorsky has Air Vice-Marshal AJS Walia (retd) as their India and South Asia head. Former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi could helpfully defended the Indian system (now almost run by his compatriot) with a statement that “bribes are a phenomenon that exist. It’s useless to deny the existence of these situations. They are not crimes”. It must be heartening to the Congress party, and Prime Minister Singh. Had not Indiraji herself said that corruption was a worldwide phenomenon?

I am deeply worried because the Defence Minister AK Antony-led Defence Acquisition Council is already sitting on billions of dollars’ worth procurement of arms, ammunitions and planes and helicopters. It appears 197 light utility helicopters (Rs.3000Cr) proposal had a middleman (Brigadier Saini?) asking Agusta Westland $5 million bribe to swing the deal, this being a joint Army-IAF procurement plan. Agusta Westland is out of this deal now, but the Russian Kamov Ka-226T and EurocopterAS550C3 Fennec are in the race. Newsmen call Antony a “champion blacklister” for having many like the Singapore Technology Kinetics, Rheinmetall, the German conglomerate, Israel Military Industries, South African Denel, and altogether some 120 or so defence suppliers put under the blacklist. It is as if the difficult choice is between safeguarding the Minister’s personal integrity and the nation’s defence preparedness. St. Antony is very touchy about issues of corruption, and in the situation, it would be the Indian armed forces that stand deprived of essential supplies be front-line combat equipment from fighter aircraft, artillery guns or air defence radars.

Antony’s penchant for black-listing manufacturers, and cancelling orders which materialised after years of prevarication can throw a spanner in the works of our much delayed defence purchases even as his ministry’s claims of an effective ban on middlemen and arms dealers. The Defence Minister’s preference to technical superiority based on specification sheets like in the case of the Rs.64500 order for the Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault, is equally worrisome. The French fighter aircraft is not known to have participated in any major war!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Who’s cheating?
Last week my wife and daughter blew up a large amount of money in various Pune malls buying all sorts of things at what they describe as “heavily discounted” prices. Though I have never believed in these discounts, I give them the benefit of doubt and make them feel elated because I have never felt comfortable with the prices, discounted or otherwise in any of these shopping malls. My opinion that the traders are out to trick us into these bogus offers is “irrational”, says my wife. And believe me; I have given carte blanche to my wife for shopping for me anything from vests to foot-wear, because if I do the purchases, I do them always in haste, and regret (every time) at leisure!

I hate ‘troubling’ the shopkeepers with requests for showing all their stock and walking away without any qualms, as my wife does. My wife and daughter say that it is precisely what the shop assistants are paid for. As someone without unlimited supply of money I feel the prices are hardly affordable, but have no clear idea how to bring them down to levels that I can afford. So to get the best out of a tricky situation I sit somewhere in the mall/shop and wait for them to buy what we all want. My wife  says I enjoy ‘bird-watching’ as they do the difficult selection, inspection and bargaining tasks, and back home criticise the time taken, the choice of stuff and the money spent too. At times I admit that they save me the entire inconvenience involved, and give me the pleasure of showing who the ‘boss’ was in the sense I hand over the cash or credit card.

I have been ridiculed by friends for my sheer inability to strike a bargain with any shop keeper. I tend to believe sheepishly or rather foolishly when they say their goods cost a certain amount and that was not to be contested. If I try to act clever and suggest lower prices, they act tough and I withdraw with my wounded price never to visit that place again. My wife twists a knife in the wound at this precise moment asking me not to be a ‘bourgeoisie’ (I don’t know from where she picked up this old Commie expression) and also philosophically implore me to allow them to earn their livelihood. The same person admonishes me often for paying higher prices than what her brother does to get sundry goods, implying or insinuating that he is smarter than me. He later confides in me that he had deliberately cultivated this misunderstanding for just the fun of it while having paid exactly what amounts I had doled out in each case!

My friend Sebastian who lived in New Delhi once took me along to Colaba-Causeway for some shopping he wanted to do because I was an old Mumbai-hand. As we entered a shop he asked me casually, “Don’t they give discounts?” I pointed out the cards displayed on every rack: NO BARGAINING. He didn’t say a word. He found his stuff and bought a few of thousands worth clothes and moved to the cash-counter, asking “what discount do you give me”? The owner of the shop said: “no discounts sir!”. “Then I am not buying the stuff. You give me 25% discount, and I take them; do you get me?” said Sebastian. It was a war of nerves or something akin to that. Sebastian eventually settled for 20% discount, and as he walked out of the shop with his packets, threw this question at me, “TM, what is the use of being in Mumbai for almost ten years if you didn’t know these people could be persuaded to cut prices for what you wanted to buy from them?”

It is as if it is written on my forehead that I was gullible or incapable of striking the right bargain. Bargaining, I thought was a transaction/agreement in which each side did something favourable to the other. I have never found the other side giving me anything, however much I tried! Later I found a way of getting around this problem. I used to casually, almost stealthily walk behind other shoppers adept in this bargaining business if we have common interest in the goods on offer, and pick up at the price they had negotiated down to, before haggling for more and quit. I used to be happy about the outcome, knowing that on my own I would not have got the bargain; what if I overpaid fifteen or twenty rupees? Before I learnt this technique, I had paid a ridiculous 200 rupees for a pair of Kolhapuri chappals in Delhi’s Palika Bazar which my friends told me that I would have got for just twenty five rupees (1992 prices). God! It is such a torment doing the shopping to get the right stuff while paying the right prices. Leaving it to the wife altogether, at least I get the opportunity to find fault with someone else for over-spending which I would have done too. It is a pity that my wife has learnt this part of the transaction and ignores the prices while concentrating on the quality she looked for. She has code-worded this as fifty-fifty – her blame/her quality; my convenience/my money.

I had this hilarious experience the other day in a mall I sauntered into along with my wife, daughter and almost-2-year-old granddaughter. Trisha like all small kids, like to cosy up to bigger kids and was attracted to this 6-7-year-old boy in bright clothes, shopping with his mother a few years older than my daughter perhaps. So I stood by, and was fascinated by the boy’s mother bargaining in chaste Hindi. While Trisha was pulling at his shirt, the boy ignored her and concentrated on his mother’s clever talk. He suddenly pulled the mother and was heard telling in English, “mama, please don’t try to cheat the old lady”. His mother was visibly embarrassed and admonished him: “Karthik, it is none of your business, please keep quiet”. Karthik wouldn’t be dissuaded, and he went on pleading with his mother, “mama, please don’t try to cheat the poor old lady. It’s not fair mama”. Mom was furious and asked him to go away if he didn’t want to be spanked back home. Karthik was subdued by this threat and kept watching the drama involving his mother and the shop assistant, occasionally throwing furtive and benign glances at Trisha beaming at him. At this point the shop assistant gave in and showed up the woollen pull-over and declared she was packing it for Karthik’s mother. This was beyond little Karthik’s understanding of business, and he was heard asking his mother almost in desperation. “mama, she allowed you to cheat her?” I smothered a laugh and looked away at Trisha who had meanwhile grabbed Karthik’s hand starting a conversation in a language cocktail of English, Malayalam, Hindi and her own gibberish. So who’s cheating, afterall?