India’s French aircraft purchase and the Italian connection – Hilda Raja

French fighter Rafale

Lady Professor Icon“In France as well as in India the Italian connection is strong and thus Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s sisters are cited as alleged recipients of kickbacks for the French aircrafts which India is supposed to purchase.’ – Dr Mrs Hilda Raja

The Italian connection in India has a deep and a vast range of earth-shaking tremors as far as the Indian polity is concerned. For the ordinary Indian ‘the Italian’ denotes power without responsibility. In political circles there is awe and scare when ‘the Italian’ is mentioned. For some it denotes scams and hence a sell out of the country.

Now there is more news on this: The GOI is mulling over buying French aircrafts. Where is the Italian connection? Very much there: Carla Bruni is the Italian wife of the French President and it is alleged that Mrs. Sonia’s sisters stand to get a hefty bribe on this transaction if affected. So the Italian connection which started with Mrs Sonia Gandhi getting herself well entrenched in the Prime minister’s household after her marriage has grown deeper and vicious. It was not just that Quatrocchi was able to go scot free because he as an Italian was well connected with the Italian connection in the PM’s household but that the whole world was laughing at the GOI’s agencies for chasing a wild goose. It looked not only ridiculous but shameful to make our central agencies fools. The last reason for requesting the case against ‘Q’ to be dropped was that much money was spent and the central agencies were running in circles. That they were made to run in circles is another matter.

In the process the Prime Minister who was handpicked for his subservience to ‘the Italian’ did not hesitate to tell the country that he was out of the loop. We have the PM washing his hands of responsibility — this when a special courier was sent by the GOI to the UK to unfreeze the accounts of ‘Q’ and allow him to take the loot and go. That too when there was a red alert for ‘Q’ is no credit to the GOI. Margaret Alva has been rewarded for this because she was in charge of Personnel administration when ‘Q’ was quietly allowed to slip from the country. She was given a post retirement benefit and is a governor. Hans Raj Bardhwaj has been rewarded with governorship because as the Law minister he took orders from ‘the Italian’ and kept the PM out of the loop. All this is in the past. Has the Italian connection become a matter of the past? It seems to me that ‘the Italian connection’ is not past history but very much a continuity of the history of this country.

One would think so and now the alleged news of the French aircrafts for India with the Italian connections as brokers has erupted. In France as well as in India the Italian connection is strong and thus Mrs. Sonia Gandhi’s sisters are cited as alleged recipients of kickbacks for the French aircrafts which India is supposed to purchase. Poor A.K. Antony — he was called by Achuthananda as Kumbakaranan. A good man honest himself he fits into a similar mound of the PM who may be personally honest but abets dishonesty and even promotes it. I am not sure if such a person can be termed as personally honest. See no evil, speak no evil and hear no evil aptly fits in the role model of our PM. Can a PM be so inactive and pretend that he is not aware? Can a PM state in Parliament that it was an error of judgment in the 2G Spectrum scam and get away without facing the consequences of such an error. Can the nation afford to have a PM who is most of the time out of the loop and when he is within the loop then he pretends that it was an error of judgment? Tell me which country will tolerate such a PM? But such a role of the PM suits ‘the Italian’ connection. Who is running the GOI? A dual power centre with responsibility in one and powers in the other and the whole political nexus revolving round the power centre sans responsibility makes things difficult and different. This is not democracy. It is a system of governance — or no governance — in which every area, every project, every department of the GOI is enmeshed in scams!

What kind of system is it that allows the rich to grow richer by the day and the poor poorer. It is a system by which on one side there is such vulgar display of wealth and assets while on the other side abject poverty. It is a system which has on one side people with diamond studded slippers and shoes while we have on the other side masses that are barefoot. It is a system in which Mukesh Ambani pays 75 lakhs for his monthly electricity bill while vast rural areas have no electricity and are immersed in darkness. It is a system which allows private jets to ferry the rich for the IPLs and for personal business while the common people have flights cancelled because the public sector Air India is in the red and cannot afford a decent salary for its pilots. It is a system which has a public distribution system for the BPL people but throws tons of food away after each lavish marriage. One can see people scavenge in the garbage heaps for scraps of food to fill their empty bellies. Yes the money belongs to the private persons but the resources to the people. Nobody in this country has the right to waste resources. Nobody has the right to run down pavement sleepers because they have nowhere to sleep except the pavement. This is system in which justice is the only light at the end of the tunnel but even that light is being dulled and at times hazy because of the powerful political class. This is a system which is called democracy but is in reality a banana republic run by an oligarchy.

The hush-hush voices have now given way to open allegations that most of the scams if properly probed will have ‘the Italian connection’ somewhere in them. Some of the information and articles on the web have openly state that these scams if probed properly they will lead to the doorstep of No. 10 Janpath. It will be revealing to find out the assets and the financial position of the Mainos today. In the affidavit Mrs. Sonia Gandhi claimed that she had hardly a few thousand rupees — in fact she borrowed from her daughter — she has no cars, no house, etc. But this system allows her to live in a house with an estimated value of 400 crores. She has no cars but has any number of bullet proof cars available at the snap of her fingers and jets to foreign countries. She has no money so her power and water charges are paid by the aam admis for whom she is struggling to get the food security bill passed. She flies across the country, jets to foreign countries in private jets — this is the ‘Italian connection’ that keeps the political and the social systems in such a mess. Manmohan Singh cannot even stand alone in an advertisement; Mrs. Sonia Gandhi has to be there too. Is the PM incapacitated that he needs the ‘Italian connection’ to walk, wave, stand and sit, and of course keep silent most of the time?

We have Rahul Gandhi wanting to change the system. Does he know what this system is? If he does then he has to change himself, his mother and the connections they both hold. Change must first come from within — within his family. First the umbilical cord of the Italian connections must be severed. The people of India had opted for a democracy and they know how to run it without the ‘Italian connection’. A parliamentary democracy has no dual power centers and no National Advisory Council as a super parliament presided over by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. These undermine democracy. There is no scope for selection but only election. There is no first family and no divine right for any one to rule this country. This democratic foundation must be reinforced.

Structural changes must be set in so that the poor need not and should not be patronized. The right for food, water, basic prerequisites must be available and reachable. It is not growth that must be targeted; it is equitable growth that must be aimed at. Lavishness and vulgar display of wealth must be heavily taxed. One cannot go on acquiring houses and mansions both within India and abroad unless and until the teeming millions of ours have shelter and a decent roof over their heads. The present system is a sinful structure because it is based on sin, on fraud, on greed, and on avarice. It must go and in its place a more compassionate economy must be evolved — one that has a human face must be reflected. Let the rich oil companies pay heavily and let their profits be scaled down but let not the prices of fuel and diesel be hiked because it will immediately have a cascading effect on common commodities and will push inflation to a higher level.

Above all we need along with the annual budget a white paper presented on non-plan expenditure — on the government’s spending to run a no governance GOI. Firm austerity measures — streamlining the expenditure of the various departments and rolling back the 5 crores per MP for the MPSLADS are some of the reform measures to bring in food security — without patronizing anybody. The biggest reform area lies in the electoral area: money for votes must be stopped by all means. Populist measures to buy votes cannot to be allowed at the cost of development of the people.

Sonia GandhiAccountability and transparent governance must be put in place. This is democracy and not a one woman rule from No. 10 Janpath. There is no place for an ‘Italian connection’. There is no high command in a democracy. The MPs need to be true representatives of the people; they must represent them and not represent only a class of pampered rich. If some of these reforms are initiated the rest will fall into place. People have become cynical and are fed up with the scams-filled UPA. One cannot be taking the people for a ride all the time. If timely interventions are not made then the country will regret it for we are becoming the most corrupt country in the world and with a population touching 1.6 billion it is going to be a great disaster. We are not looking for cosmetic changes but are for a complete overhauling of the system with real structural changes.

» Dr. Hilda Raja is a Development Consultant in Gujarat. 

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