Lok Sabha Elections 2004
Under BJP Rule:
Scams and Scandals Galore!
There has never been a government in independent India that has been rocked by as many scandals and scams as the BJP-led government. The scale of corruption under this government has touched such heights that the Rs 64 crore Bofors scam almost pales into insignificance in comparison. The BJP-led government, led by the ‘party with a difference’ has been instrumental in institutionalising corruption in this country. Who can forget the sordid visual shown on TV channels across the country of the then BJP President, Bangaru Laxman, eagerly accepting bundles of cash and thrusting them into his desk drawer while expressing his preference for dollars next time around. Worse was to follow as the government brazened it out, with the Samata Party President Jaya Jaitly claiming that they had done nothing wrong since they were ‘only taking money for the Party.’ George Fernandes, the man more loyal than the king in the BJP-led alliance, who had been vociferous in demanding action against those involved in the Bofors kickbacks, ironically gave the same response as that of the Cong (I) at that time: first denial, then alleging conspiracy and lastly pleading for silence on the grounds of national security.
This silence must be broken. The people of this country have the right to know how a party, who vowed to cleanse the system of ‘bhrashtachar’ (corruption), was involved in shady dealings without consideration of their repercussions on the nation, its security and the exchequer. It’s present President Venkaiah Naidu himself is involved in a land scam. According to a report in the Asian Age (Aug. 17, 2002), ‘The Bharatiya Janata Party has chosen as its president a gentleman who allegedly annexed 40.15 acres of land that was meant to be distributed to the landless poor and other weaker sections of society.’
Let us look at the major scams and scandals which had the blessings of the ruling alliance at the Centre.
1. Tehelka Exposé
As is now widely known, journalists from the internet-based news service, tehelka.com, posing as representatives of a fictitious UK based arms dealer called ‘West End’ worked their way up a chain of bureaucrats, military officers, ruling party politicians, agents and fixers over a period of six months. The entire country saw on television how the ‘West End’ team bribed their way through this system by getting introduced to key decision-makers or those who could influence them, and obtained sensitive information and access to military secrets. The self-proclaimed champions of a strong nation stood exposed as a bunch of self-seeking crooks directly accepting bribes from agents and middlemen. Jaya Jaitly, the then President of the Samata Party, clearly compromised the nation’s security and encouraged corruption in the Ministry of Defence by conducting such dealings from within the Defence Minister’s residence. In the sad aftermath to this scandal a systematic attempt was made to cover up the sordid saga.
Given this record of the BJP-led government and especially that of highly placed officials within the Defence Ministry, there is a genuine case for enquiring into all major defence deals entered into by this government. Let us not forget that this same government still works under a cloud of suspicion involving a deal that had to do with purchase of coffins for our martyred Jawans.
2. UTI Scam
The hard-earned savings of a large number of ordinary middle class Indians was put into jeopardy by the government-managed Unit Trust of India. UTI’s decision in 2001 to suspend the sale and repurchase of its units for six months, affected over two crore small investors. The collapse of UTI’s flagship scheme US-64 was a gigantic fraud, unprecedented in scale. It is clear now that the finance ministry was involved in the UTI’s ploy of siphoning money put in by small investors into dubious companies. The list of companies whose shares the UTI bought included those run by RSS/BJP sympathisers. Corporate houses had been using the massive investible fund at the UTI’s disposal (which stood at Rs 75,159 crores as on 30th June 2000) for their speculative profit-making in the stock exchanges. Earlier too, in 1998, in a similar crisis, the Government had to bail out the UTI with a Rs 3,300 crore package. At that time, a committee was constituted to review the functioning of the US-64 scheme. It had recommended that these funds should be invested in safer ‘debt funds’ rather than in high risk ‘equity funds’.
In blatant disregard of the committee’s recommendations, UTI continued to invest in equity funds, including stocks handled by the infamous Ketan Parekh (who was later arrested on charges of gross corruption). UTI was clearly involved in placing its funds at the disposal of stock market scamsters and fraudulent companies owned by RSS/BJP sympathisers.
To further compound matters, large corporates withdrew their investments from the UTI just before its crash — thus pointing to the fact that they were privy to inside information that came from the highest quarters. In a shameless display of callous disregard for the future of millions who lost their hard earned savings, the Finance Minister claimed that his Ministry was entirely oblivious of the happenings in the UTI.
3. Land Scam
The Urban Development Ministry of the BJP-led government worked overtime to gift away prime plots in the heart of the nation’s capital to the RSS, VHP and other affiliates of the Sangh Parivar, at prices that were less than one-tenth of the market rate. According to the Indian Express, of the 209 allotments, 115 have gone to government departments, and of the remaining 94, a huge chunk has gone to Sangh Parivar affiliates. Land worth hundreds of crores of rupees in Rouse Avenue, Vasant Vihar and other such prime locations have been garnered by RSS front organisations.
4. Petrol Pump Scam
The petro-scam involved using the Dealership Selection Boards (DSBs) to give sympathizers of the BJP agencies for Motor Spirits, High Speed Diesel Pumps, Kerosene and LPG. A majority of the 3,850 allotments have been traced to friends and relations of the RSS/BJP. One of the ‘beneficiaries’ was an inmate of the prime minister’s official residence in Lucknow! The entire system, from the selection of the chairmen of the DSBs to the allotment of the agencies was so designed that it could be manipulated without hindrance.
5. Loot of Public Property – The Disinvestment Scam
Under five years of the so-called ‘Swadeshi’ government the hard-earned assets of the Indian people, built over half a century, were sold to private and foreign companies at throwaway prices. Here are a few examples:
(a) The Centaur Airport Hotel in Mumbai, which was sold to a private party for only Rs 83 crore, was resold by the buyer four months later for Rs 115 crore. The owner of the company which originally bought the hotel was known to be close to the RSS. The fact that Rs 32 Crore was made in such a short time shows how public sector assets were undervalued by the Department of Disinvestment under the BJP-led government. The CPI(M) has demanded a CBI inquiry into the sale and resale of Centaur Hotel, Mumbai, in the light of the adverse remarks made by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). The CAG in its report has indicated that the government suffered a loss of Rs 145.69 crore as a result of the deal.
(b) Modern Foods, valued at Rs 22.00 crore by the employees’ union, was sold to a multinational, Hindustan Lever Ltd. Along with the company, all fixed assets like 14 factories, 7 ancillary units and 20 franchise units — all situated in prime locations in big cities, were also sold.
(c) BALCO, the company worth Rs 5,500 crore was sold to a single bidder Sterlite for Rs 551 crore.
Minister for Disinvestment Arun Shourie gives three arguments in favour of disinvestment — (a) Infusing new technology; (b) infusing new capital; and (c) revamp of the management. None of these arguments hold good for profit-making PSUs. For example, VSNL had cash reserves and surplus of more than Rs 6,000 crore (year ending March 2000) and made a profit of over Rs 800 crore for that year. Yet the government chose to hand it over to the Tatas. It is a moot question why the government is intent on selling profit-making PSUs to Tatas, Birlas and Ambanis? Is it because they grease the election machinery of the BJP and its partners?
The BJP-led government has decided to accelerate the process of disinvestment. Mercifully the Supreme Court stepped in to stop the disinvestment plans of the government as regards oil giants like the HPCL & BPCL. Even today the disinvestment plans for MTNL, GAIL, ONGC, VSNL, IOC, IA remain on the anvil.
6. Telecom Scam
In July 1999, the government announced a sudden shift in policy from a fixed telecom licensing fee to a revenue sharing arrangement. This was done to favour certain players in the telecom sector including some who had direct access to the Prime Minister’s Office. The estimated loss to the country stood at Rs 4,600 crores.
7. Sugar Scam
In September 1999, the BJP-led government decided to import 5.54 lakh tonnes of sugar from Pakistan when there was no shortage in the country. An estimated Rs 900 crore was the windfall that a select group of traders enjoyed.
8. Stamp Paper Scam
‘I challenge you, you can’t stamp out fake stamp paper, it has been going on since pre-Independence days. Mine is only one of the gangs and it is not the biggest’, said Telgi, the prime accused in the multi-crore fake stamp paper scam (estimated at Rs 47,000 crores) to his interrogators. It is now clear that corrupt politicians owing allegiance to both the BJP (and its partners) and the Congress along with top police officials are involved.
9. Milking Public Sector
The latest in the series of scams is that of the minister for civil aviation, Rajiv Pratap Rudy who had been misusing his office by milking funds of the Airports Authority of India for his personal use. While millions die of hunger in this country, we have a minister of who stays in a five-star hotel in Goa and sends the huge bill running into lakhs of rupees to a public sector company for payment. Earlier, the Central Vigilance Commissioner has had cause to complain to the Prime Minister about misuse of powers by ministers, who force public sector units to finance their lavish lifestyles.
The BJP-led government had once claimed that on their spotless white kurta, even a small drop of ink would stand out. In the last five years the drops of inks have become so frequent that the original colour of the kurta is not clear any more. In the coming elections, the people of this country will get a chance to give a fitting rebuff to this corrupt government.