SEEMA MUSTAFA | 23 FEBRUARY, 2018
NEW DELHI: It is sort of strange that as we hacks cover one scam after another, just about finish writing about one fraudster when another appears, wear down our fingers on the keyboard spinning volumes on the political-corporate nexus we find little resonates with the public at large. Yes, of course there is corruption,yes, of course these chaps make money, remain the cynical responses from the people, confirmed during elections when the voters appear to shrug off the largescale corruption as part of the routine fare and vote for the preferred party regardless.
But every now and again a story sticks. Like Bofors. It took off like wildfire, in an era without WhatsApp and the social media, as soon as the Swedish radio station reported in April,1987 that bribes had been paid to Indian politicians and defence personnel for the howitzer deal between Sweden and India. It attached itself to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi like a leech that no explanation, or action, was able to shake off. It led to the electoral defeat of the Congress government in 1989, and it remained hovering in the background like Banquo’s ghost even though several key players had died, cornering Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi and the Congress every now and again. It died only when the trail went stone cold, although there has been some feeble effort by the BJP to re-start a stonewalled probe for forms sake.
At that time Congressman Vishwanath Pratap Singh, being an astute politician, was the first to smell the potential of Bofors and came out of the party to start the Janata Dal, and soar to victory on the back of Bofors. Key Rajiv Gandhi aide Arun Nehru switched sides to support Singh as the backroom strategy man. There was always something ‘romantic’ for want of another word about Bofors, a word that became an euphemism for corruption and ignited the masses with motorcycle riders forming cheer squads for VP SIngh in Allahabad and Uttar Pradesh to begin with.
Nirav Modi and his Rs 11,400 crore scam seems to have the same resonance. For one he is being mistaken by the more blissfully ignorant as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s relative, even “brother” added to by Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s viral description of the diamond man as “Chota Modi.” And like Bofors it has moved out of the corridors of power, straight into the streets.
The fact that the scam involved the Punjab National Bank has had a ripple impact, with India’s poorer classes having a sense of empathy with the public sector banks. More so as banking with the more elite private sector is restrictive for them, with farmers and workers forming the bulk of public sector banking. The silence of the government is not helping, and the delay has allowed the news to spread unchecked. Even BJP supporters are not batting for the government government, with Ministers like Ravi Shankar Prasad when fielded doing at best an unconvincing job.
The photograph of fugitive Nirav Modi with PM Narendra Modi at Davos along with others has turned into jokes, memes, songs on the social media with lightning speed. The Congress is leading the charge, Rahul Gandhi on the social media, and Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on the streets of Karnataka where the Assembly elections are next in line. However, the charisma and reputation of a VP Singh is missing and it remains to be seen whether the opposition will be able to make capital of the Nirav Modi fraud that has drawn resonance from the street, more than say the Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya frauds.
4 Similarities between Bofors and #PublicMoneyLoot are striking:
-one the scams have touched the top office of respective Prime Ministers. In fact, both revolved around the PMO with other Ministers and the respective political parties fairly out of the loop.
-two, both were based partly in fact, but largely in perceptions. In that Bofors fed into perceptions of defence kickbacks and political funding. And Nirav Modi has flagged the whispered connections between the diamond industry and ruling politicians. To which there was no face until he provided it, along with that of Mehul Choksi, his maternal uncle.
-three, in both there was a foreign connection. Italian businessman close to the Nehru-Gandhi family Ottavio Quattrocchi gave the Bofors scam a distinct flavour; as has Nirav Modi’s flight to an unknown destination abroad, with a passport that is reportedly not Indian. Besides in the current case the ‘fugitive’ is also from the PM’s home state, and related to “Mehulbhai”, Choksi a diamond dealer who seems to be, as a now viral video clip shows, close to PM Modi.
And four both governments declared their full intention to unearth the fraud, and take action against those responsible.