WHY RAHUL GANDHI SHOULD NOT FOLLOW HIS GRANDFATHER?
Ganga has once again been invoked in the debate on corruption. Rejecting Rahul Gandhi’s perceived “earth-tremor” allegation against Narendra Modi, Union minister and eminent lawyer Ravishanker Prasad has said the prime minister is “as pure as Ganga”. In 1981, when Lok Sabha discussed the scam relating to purchase of diesel from a Hong Kong firm, Kuo Oil, K.P. Unnikrishnan alleged the involvement of those around Indira Gandhi and asked the prime minister, “Madam, if the Gangotri is polluted how we can ensure purity of the Ganga?” In her reply, Mrs. Gandhi sidestepped the allegation and said, “Corruption is a world phenomenon”. She cited allegations against British PM’s spouse Dennis Thatcher; a Prince in Holland and a top leader in Japan. (Committee on Public Undertakings in later years determined the colossal loss Indian Oil Corporation suffered in the Kuo deal.) The first scam in our parliamentary democracy was exposed by Rahul Gandhi’s grandfather, Feroze Gandhi in 1958. Being the prime minister’s son-in-law did not deter the member from Rae Bareli from ripping apart finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari (who had to quit) and lay bare what came to be known as the Mundhra scandal. Feroze Gandhi cited noting from secret government files. The government’s objection was dismissed by Speaker M. Ananthasayanam Ayyangar, who ruled that the scope of Article 105 of the Constitution empowers a Member of Parliament to cite documents marked “confidential” in the course of exposing an act of wrongdoing by a public servant, “even if the document has been obtained by stealth”. (An MP has to authenticate the document under his signature and lay it on the table of the House — in doing so he invites contempt proceedings if the document is found to be false.)
Mundhra was just one issue raised by Feroze Gandhi. A year earlier he had caused the imprisonment of Ram Kishan Dalmia, who then owned Times of India. He had also demanded nationalisation of a Tata company, Telco (now Tata Motors) for unfair practices. Apart from Feroze Gandhi, the MP from Kanpur, S.M. Banerjee cited government files in the Ruby Insurance scam. (Between 1957-77 a Bengali represented UP’s biggest metro: caste politics came later.) The Gandhi family has retained the Rae Bareli legacy of Feroze Gandhi. And that’s about it. In 1982, Ottavio Quattrocchi first made it to the headlines after a subsidiary of Snam Progetti bagged the consultancy for Thal Vaishet fertiliser plant. Exposing the deal, K.P. Unnikrishnan cited Ayyangar’s ruling and produced government files in Lok Sabha. He was charged by CBI for “spying”. A former sheriff of Bombay, N.N. Kapadia was arrested as he represented an American firm, which had lost out to Snam in the scam. There is a telemetric deal of ONGC in which an Italian firm, Ferranti had bagged the contract. When the report was flashed in Parliament, ruling party MPs led by Rafiq Zakaria demanded a probe — not on the deal, but on the leakage of files. Propriety had not entirely been vanquished. When journalistic privilege of secrecy of source was cited in defence, the joint director, C.M. Sharma found merit in the argument. On the Thal case, Unnikrishnan cited parliamentary privilege and the case still lingers in CBI records. Rahul Gandhi’s “attack” on PM was billed for Parliament. Cacophony notwithstanding, the process of Parliament, of giving a formal notice of the charges to the Speaker with simultaneous notice to the Treasury benches was not complied with. The allegations seem serious. They are part of a petition by Prashant Bhushan pending before Supreme Court. The Richter scale was dormant when the grandson of Feroze Gandhi spoke in Mehsana as parliamentary practice was ignored.
The ruling party’s counter, that Rahul Gandhi is “scared” of the Agusta deal too is a matter pending not merely before a CBI court at a preliminary stage, but is an active case in the courts of Italy. Matters came to head following a judgement of the court of Busto Arsizio on October 9, 2014, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal in Busto Arsizio on April 7, 2016. Italy’s Supreme Court in Rome on December 16, 2016 has quashed certain portions of the earlier judgement and asked the Busto Arsizio appeals court to review its order. This perhaps necessitates retrial, which, as per Italy’s law of limitation, has to be completed by March 2017. As the controversy began in Italy, the outcome of the retrial needs to be watched. The Bofors howitzer, whose acquisition in 1986 led to the downfall of Rajiv Gandhi (allegation yet to be proved), is known for its shoot-and-scoot ability. This was amply demonstrated in the Kargil war of 1999. The Opposition in 1986-89, of which BJP was a driving force, used shoot-and-scoot tactics and the political mileage was tremendous. One does not know if Rahul Gandhi too is indulging in shoot-and-scoot. Political allegation, if made, must be of the order of the Feroze Gandhi heritage, which is best summed up as hoot and toot.