India’s big corruption cases and its aftermaths
Due to Covid-19 pandemic, many ongoing major corruption cases are delayed and the Accused people might be relieved. Be it 2G case appeal in Delhi High Court or former Finance Minister P Chidambaram involved bribery cases in INX Media and Aircel-Maxis deals or politically sensitive National Herald case in trial courts and its linked appeal cases by the Accused persons Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in Supreme Court on tax evasion and Herald House eviction. Now CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) sought daily hearing in the 2G case appeal in Delhi High Court citing the retirement of the current Judge Justice Brijesh Sethi on November 30.
In corruption cases, what we see generally the backdoor games in the trial stage, after the public attention fizzles out later. Classic example is the Bofors case. When you look at the timeline of the past 22 years, politicians from Congress and BJP wanted to save their preferred accused persons in Bofors case. Congress leadership wanted to save Ottavio Quattrocchi and BJP leadership of late 90s wanted to save Hinduja brothers. These two are the major kickback money distributors. Still the case filed by Adv. Ajay Agarwal (BJP’s candidate against Sonia Gandhi in 2014 Lok Sabha election in Rae Bareli) against the CBI closure report is pending in Supreme Court. Bofors scam was a turning point in Indian politics which smashed out Congress party’s single party regime in India. The scam linked to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s family collapsed the prospectus of Congress party which was having 425 MPs in Lok Sabha and got reduced to 195 MPs in the 1989 General Election, leading to the united Opposition from BJP to Socialists to Left parties led India’s first coalition Government.
Congress party’s downfall started with the exposes in Bofors scam from 1988. There were lot of twists and turns in Bofors case and Opposition lost steam on the matter after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in May 1991, leading to the return of Congress party which remained in power up to 1996. Though BJP led Government came to power from 1998 to 2004, the situation has not changed. BJP’s Law Minister Ram Jethmalani became Advocate of Hinduja Brothers, who was part of the gang of middlemen in the Bofors deal. Next Law Minister Arun Jaitley was also not keen on the matter though he was the Additional Solicitor General in the case in 1989. Jaitley many times said publicly that he drafted the chargesheet in Bofors. Next Congress led UPA Government, simply forced CBI to close the case.
Still the main petitioner Ajay Agarwal’s appeal against CBI closure is pending in Supreme Court. In 2018, CBI made a curious petition in Supreme Court to revive the case on a flimsy angle. The flimsy angle was based on a revelation in 2018 by retired Swedish Police Officer in the newly launched Republic TV Channel. Fun is the same CBI filed closure and facing the appeal of Ajay Agarwal against closure in Supreme Court filing a petition based on a Republic TV saying that they are going to probe into the new angle aired in TV channel. Anyway Supreme Court trashed CBI’s new flimsy funny petition and still Ajay Agarwal’s petition is pending. Don’t know why Ajay Agarwal lost interest.
After Bofors Scam, Jain Hawala Dairy Scandal shook the Country. Actually this whole episode started with the arrest of a JNU student from Kashmir in connection with the money trail from terror linked outfits in late 1990 by Delhi Police. The money trails lead to the Hawala operators Jain brothers in Delhi and Police got a long list of names from diaries kept by them. Obviously case got frozen for 3-4 years due to the names in the dairy ranging from so many politicians. In 1994, the diary names were exposed in media, ranging from LK Advani to many politicians and Cabinet Ministers. Still people say names in diary were leaked by top leadership Congress and BJP to settle their internal rivalries. Activist and Journalist Vineet Narain, lawyers Ram Jethmalani and Prashant Bhushan approached Courts. Meanwhile as usual Ram Jethmalani switched the side to save Advani and became his Advocate and won the case. The Case got collapsed after Supreme Court said that mere naming in diaries can’t be treated as evidence. Though the case collapsed, the outcome was a landmark Judgment popularly known as Vineet Narain Judgment which changed the entire structure of CBI and ED and got the Supreme Court’s monitoring and strict norms for the appointment of officers in these probe agencies.
After Hawala Diary scandal, two corruption cases rocked the country. One was Tehelka Magazine’s sting operation on Defence deals. It collapsed then ruling BJP’s President Bangaru Laxman, who was caught on camera accepting few lakhs of rupees. He was convicted and later out on bail he is no more now. Recently in August 2020 another accused Jaya Jaitly, who was the companion of then Defence Minister George Fernandez was convicted by trial court along with former military officers. Somehow she was lucky to manage bail from Delhi High Court in the evening itself, while other accused are still languishing in jail. How she got bail on the same evening from High Court is a matter of debate. Sometimes justice is delivered on seeing face. Tehelka Magazine exposed how pliable are people in politics and bureaucracy, and army. The sting operation exposed how BJP first time landed in power pliable in deals. The Defence Minister’s companion and BJP President were caught for accepting money on the sting operation.
After this Tehelka’s reporter Aniruddha Bahal in 2006 exposed a big sting operation through his website Cobrapost. This sting operation actually shook the Parliament revealing how MPs were taking money for asking questions. This expose exposed how questions and matters were raised by MPs by taking money from Corporate Houses and their rivals. After an internal probe, Parliament expelled all the nine MPs caught in the sting operation. This was a black chapter in the Indian Parliament.
Mega scams rocks Congress led UPA Government
First major scam rocked the UPA Government was Commonwealth Games (CWG) scams from 2009. The CWG Scam started by a movement called India Against Corruption (IAC) which was essentially blessed by RSS, and supporters of spiritual leaders Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Baba Ramdev. That time main Opposition party BJP was in shambles due to their electoral defeat in May 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Congress led UPA got rattled and shaken in 2G Scam followed by Coal Scam.
The CWG Scam was limited to the role of the Games Committee Chairman and Congress leader Suresh Kalmadi. Actually then Sports Minister Mani Shankar Aiyer was against Kalmadi and his displeasure letters leaked into media became the Scam. Interestingly, though the budget of the CWG was more than Rs.75,000 crore, the scam allegations were only limited to Suresh Kalmadi (might be his stars not correct that time) who had spending power of below Rs.1700 crore. He also picked fights with big media organizations on advertisement allotments in the Games. Anyway all jumped on him on purchases and CBI case was registered and was in jail for some months. The case is still on trial and expected to take more than 2-3-4 years to finish. That is our system in judicial process.
Interestingly two big cases related to CWG were later closed by CBI. One was regarding Rs.15,000 crore worth construction of flyovers in connection with the CWG in Delhi in 2010. The over expenditure in the construction of the flyovers (Barapullah Flyover) was pointing to none other than then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. Second one was much bigger scam of about the Rs.35,000 crore spend on the construction of CWG Village. The builder MGF Group was so close to Sonia Gandhi’s family and case reached nowhere and ultimately CBI closed the case. Now CWG cases are limited only to Kalmadi and small cases against Municipal officers in the long trial stages.
The 2G Scam
The Congress led UPA Government collapsed because of the 2G Scam which was highlighted by “The Pioneer” newspaper through continuous series of 100s of reports from December 2008 leading to Telecom Minister A.Raja’s resignation in November 2010. This case changed my career prospects as a Journalist. I am always thankful to my Editor Chandan Mitra and Bureau Chief Navin Upadhyay for assigning this mega work, where God smiled at me. This was the first case where Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) fixed the role of Corporate Houses. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy and noted lawyer Prashant Bhushan deserves it the full credit for their legal fights which ultimately collapsed the mighty Sonia Gandhi controlled UPA regime.
So many good things happened in the Country due of the 2G Scam expose. The Supreme Court verdict of February 2012, cancelling all 122 licenses and subsequent Presidential Reference led to the auction of all natural resources. This Judgment also affected the Coal Scam cases and auction of Coal Mines. From auction of Telecom Spectrum alone, the Country during 2010-2016 earned Rs.3.6 lakh crores in the exchequer. The 2G Scam led CAG to find other scams like Telecom AGR hushed up revenues which now found the payment of Rs.1.65 lakh crore by telecom giants to the public exchequer.
However unfortunately criminal cases in 2G Scam collapsed in trial court. I am not commenting on the very very bad Judgment passed by the trial Judge OP saini. His Judgment acquitting the scamsters is so bad in law and laughable. Now CBI and ED have approached the Delhi High Court for speedy hearing in September 2020.
As the trial court Judge Bharat Parashar was a bold Judge many are convicted in the Coal Scam including the former Coal Secretary HC Gupta. However, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh escaped from the Scam, as CBI decided to shut his eyes. Manmohan Singh was summoned by the trial court but he managed a stay from another Bench of Supreme Court. Why CBI not challenged it? Certain things, you don’t have answers.
Niira Radia Tapes and CBI Director Ranjit Sinha’s case
Controversial lobbyist Niira Radia’s conversations made tremors in many sectors. There were more than 6000 conversations, though only around 500 conversations landed in public domain. From Ratan Tata to who is who in industry, media, bureaucracy and politics got hit in the Radia Tapes expose. Supreme Court in late 2012 Ordered CBI to probe into 12 matters of corrupt practices mentioned in the tapes. However the case lost steam after CBI reported back to the Court that there was no criminality found in these conversations. The Court also did not pursue in the matter on findings submitted in sealed cover.
Another biggest shocking incident was in late 2014, the CBI Director Ranjit Sinha was caught for meeting many 2G Scam and Coal Scam accused Corporate tycoons. This was exposed by certain good officers in CBI by verifying tainted Ranjit Sinha’s visitors’ book kept at his residence. Supreme Court’s 2G Bench had removed Sinha from the cases and Coal Scam Bench had ordered probe on Sinha’s dubious activities. Even after the Supreme Court indicted, Modi Government did not take any action against the tainted CBI Director. CBI has not yet filed FIR on this regard against its tainted former Director.
Cases against Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram
After winning the 2G cases in Supreme Court, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy went ballistic. He got Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi in National Herald case. His expose in Aircel-Maxis scam led to the fall of former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, who during the probe got trapped in another bribery case known as INX-Media case. All these cases are in the trial stages which are expected to take 2-3 years in judicial process. The Income Tax case in National Herald case and Herald House eviction cases are pending in Supreme Court. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi lost in all forums and their appeal is pending before the Supreme Court. Enforcement Directorate has attached the Mumbai and Panchkula properties in the National Herald case. Now we have to wait for the normal working of courts after the Covid-19 pandemic is controlled.
Lot of scams exposed during 2012-2014. One of the KG Basin loot where Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Group was caught. Another was the humongous scam in the Civil Aviation sector where main culprits were Jet Airways and Tata Group. Somehow Prashant Bhushan’s case against the illegalities in the Reliance Jio not became successful. The case ended with open tussle in Supreme Court between then Chief Justice of India TS Thakur and Prashant Bhushan, who later walked out from the Court. The merits of the case lost in the war of words between the two. Certain high flying cases end up like this in mysterious way.
Corruption in Judiciary
For long time there are allegations of corruption in Judiciary and it reached nowhere. Simple reason for this is only action available against High Court Judge and above is possible only through Impeachment by Parliament. Only once a retired High Court Judge was arrested was in September 2017 in medical college scam. CBI took a bold step to arrest retired Judge IM Quddussi which ultimately led to the culmination of the controversial press conference by the senior most four judges of the Supreme Court in January 2018. Four senior most Judges Justices J Chelameswar, Madan B Lokur, Kurian Joseph and Ranjan Gogoi conducted press conference expressing displeasure on the style of functioning of Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
Retired Justice Quddussi was caught fixing a case and handling bribery with a case involving a medical college listed in Supreme Court. Justice Chelameswar ordered for senior most five Judge to probe rather than probe by CBI. In his Order, Justice Chelameswar said how CBI officers capable to deal a case involving the role of certain Judges in Supreme Court. But next day, Chief Justice Dipak Misra took over the case illegally or not as per custom and diluted the matter. This was the trigger of the four Judges press conference against the Chief Justice of India. This incident shows the grey areas and rotten side in the Judiciary.
It is not easy to probe into the corruption in judiciary. It is not easy in lower level of judiciary also though Police is empowered to register cases. Once a district level Judge was arrested by CBI in a bribery case of allowing bail in Bellary mining case. Some Judges in District and subordinate level were punished by the High Courts and ended up in termination of their service.
In 2G case, the ED has come out with the report that a week before the controversial acquittal judgment, the stock prices of the companies owned by Accused persons were shot up in multiple times. Somehow no action was taken.
BJP and AAP became the beneficiaries in the anti-corruption movement started from December 2010. In politics so many twists and turns will be witnessed. In November 2013, AAP led Arvind Kejriwal came to power in Delhi State with the help of Congress party which they opposed for past two years. The AAP was formed against the corruption of Congress party and in 2015 and 2020 Delhi Assembly elections; it is a well known fact that AAP got support of Congress in sidelining BJP in Delhi.
BJP which came to power in May 2014 was not keen fixing the corruption cases to its logical conclusion. There happened many deals under the table. There were open attempts to derail the cases against Chidambaram and in 2G cases by certain people in power. Many Officers dealing corruption cases faced all kind of hardships. Subramanian Swamy was sidelined in BJP and Prashant Bhushan was removed from AAP. The worst was the dilution of the Prevention of Corruption Act by the BJP Government.
My experiences in studying and reporting corruption cases has taught me many lessons. Main thing is who ever come to power the Corporate Houses somehow control them. Politicians may lose jobs but the Corporate Houses, the bribe givers remain as the politicians we elect lack courage to tackle these buccaneers. What we need is the educated and vigilant public and fight against the corruption is not like an item which is like the items to be delivered immediately like in fast food counters. The fight against corruption is a long battle and one should not lose heart during the setbacks. We have to remember that at the end truth and only ultimate truth will win – Satyameva Jayate.
[J Gopikrishnan is a Journalist working with ‘The Pioneer’ newspaper]