Stain of dishonour

Quattrocchis Great Escape


Ottavio Quattrocchi exit the Indian stage some time ago but appeared briefly on the front pages last week to take a formal bow. The Centre had just told the Supreme Court that it planned to withdraw the pending case against the Italian businessman before the chief metropolitan magistrate in Delhi.

Quattrocchi telephonically said he was pleased by the decision. The Bofors scam entailed Rs 64 crore in alleged kickbacks, a modest amount of loot in relation to many other scandals. The government says it chased Quattrocchi around the world, latterly in Malaysia and Argentina, only to be told that there was no case against him whatsoever. In other words, the government’s stand is that it tried its best but did not succeed in pinning anything on Quattrocchi. One hopes the government believes this story as nobody else does.

The critics charge that Quattrocchi had friends in high places and knew too much to be harassed, something like the notorious A Q Khan. This may be wholly untrue but the way the Congress has acted over the years suggests that this was indeed a possibility and if not Quattrocchi, or only Quattrocchi, other friends of people in high places were involved.

The case was mishandled from the start and the culprits allowed to get away. Indeed, the government went out of the way to ignore or avoid the leads that were provided by the Swedish authorities. Madhavsinh Singh Solanki, then foreign minister, went to Switzerland specifically to abort further investigations and was caught doing so.

Those who want to get a flavour of the truth should read what Chitra Subbrmaniam, the Indian Express’ Geneva correspondent was told by her Swedish ‘Deep Throat.’ It is a depressing story. The moral basis of the state stands undermined and it is not surprising that Swiss bankers should speak with a certain disdain when asked by India to disclose secret Indian accounts in their keeping. The last chapter of the Bofors case may have been closed to Quattrocchi’s delight, but it has been closed with a stain of dishonour.

A new drive against corruption has recently been promised, with proposed amendments to remove the prior permission single directive, and amendments to Article 311 governing civil servants. But to launch a new drive with a stark closure of an inconvenient truth —unless openly proved otherwise — marks a false beginning. What message does it send down the line to corrupt officials, politicians, dubious businessmen and others. And what message does it send to the investigative agencies?

Convention on corruption

One keeps asking what has happened to India’s confirmation of ratification of the UN Convention on Corruption which it signed two years ago but has yet to bring into effect. That Convention is intended to deal with the Quattrocchis of this world by freezing their accounts, compelling joint investigations and securing their extradition. Why is nobody interested in operationalising this instrumentality?

If avenues are open to amass wealth and influence through underhand means, how does one tell airline pilots, IIT professors and other well heeled but honest sections of society that too much cream may not be good for them. Is everybody right to ask for the moon even in times of trouble? The Air India pilots demand (for which they struck work for some days) is something akin to the bailouts that the US Congress sanctioned to certain American corporates that found their way into bonuses, salary raises and refurbishing luxury homes.

Air India is seeking a bailout and the pilots, like IIT professors, are not the most oppressed or deprived class. Nor should everybody compare their salaries with the best on offer elsewhere in the world. Wage and income disparities in India are widening. The labourer must be worthy of his hire. Is this so? Maybe, as Shakespeare said, if everybody were to get his deserts, then who should escape whipping?

Part of the problem is that people are able to hold society or the community to ransom — some burn buses and trains, others ransack stores and offices, doctors and lawyers go on strike, others take mass ‘sick leave,’ all without attracting consequences. Threats of punishment are ultimately compromised and the perpetrators get off scot free. Swift and condign punishment in a few cases would deliver a salutary lesson to all and sundry.
Finally, the Shopian rape case is beginning to unravel after exhumation of the bodies of the two young women victims. The rape of the younger women was concocted by a whole chain of perverted or terrorised investigators and witnesses on what appears to have been an orchestrated attempt to throw dirt at the security forces and administration.

This is a repeat of the Amarnath Yatra agitation based on cock and bull stories spread by the PDP and Hurriyat of alleged land grab and demographic change and equal nonsense spouted from Jammu by BJP-RSS led agitators. It is time sane public opinion asserted itself against such studied deceit and hypocrisy posing as a brand of patriotism and freedom struggle. The full truth of Shopian is yet to be revealed. But it appears to be plumbing the depths of shame.

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