Several big scams hit headlines during the UPA regime. There were big ticket scams such as the 2G spectrum (Rs 1,70,000 crore), Coalgate (Rs 4,87,000 crore) and the Antrix Devas (Rs 2,00,000 crore) scams among others. Government institutions like the CAG, courts, CBI, CVC and ED were all involved in the investigation of the scams. Civil societies became active. Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement became a national phenomenon. Millions came out to support it. And, the Congress lost the 2014 general elections due to scams.
Now, the Congress is gearing up to face another election in 10 months. It is desperately looking for a scam against the NDA, a big-ticket scam that could do to the BJP what the 2G spectrum scam did to the UPA.
The party has zeroed in on Rafale deal. Congress party president Rahul Gandhi raised it in Parliament during the no-confidence motion. He later asked his party workers to take it to grass root level. The party has moved a privilege motion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman on Rafale. Now, the question is - Can Rafale deal become a scam?
What is a scam?
All financial irregularities or losses to public exchequer may not become scams. For intance, bank NPAs and companies going for bankruptcy under IBC is not a scam. Yet, in some cases it is pure looting of the common depositors and tax payers’ money to the tune of crores of rupees. Whereas, the 2G spectrum scam may be the biggest scam in the Indian history even after the CBI court saying that there was no proof of any financial irregularity. It is perception that matters. The Congress’ success depends on its ability to create an environment against the BJP on this issue.
I am not privy to the details of the Rafale deal and I don’t want to go into details of arguments of BJP and Congress on it. However, a simple anatomy of major scams in the last 15 years that embarrassed the incumbent governments shows that Rafale may not have basic elements required to catch the public attention. The Congress party may be barking at the wrong tree.
Anatomy of scams during the UPA regime
All big-ticket scams during the UPA regime started as corporate rivalry. For example, the 2G scam started when incumbent telecom operators Airtel, Idea and Vodafone opposed former telecom minister A Raja giving 2G spectrum to new operators, including RCOM and Tata Teleservices without auction. They had financial muscle to expose Raja’s ‘wrongdoing’. It was a different matter that the incumbent operators themselves got spectrum without auction.
There is not much corporate rivalry in the Rafale deal. In the absence of this rivalry, Congress party workers will have to take lead in educating the public.
Who can forget the Rs 1,70,000-crore 2G spectrum scam? After the CAG report, everyone was talking about the spectrum scam. It had caught the nation’s attention. For the first time, the public was hearing such astronomical numbers. It became headlines in domestic and global media. No one questioned the rationality behind these numbers.
Encouraged by the response from the public and media, the CAG came out with bigger numbers for coal scam (Rs 4,80,000 crore) in draft report that was later reduced to Rs 1,87,000 crore and Antrix Devas (Rs 200,000 crore). Interestingly, all the reports were leaked to the media before they were tabled in Parliament.
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With these reports, the then CAG Vinod Rai got immediate fame. He became a hero. He was later accommodated as chairman of the Banks Board Bureau by the NDA government.
Later, Rai’s intentions and method of calculating losses both were questioned, especially after the CBI court gave the verdict in favour of A Raja rejecting the whole scam theory.
It is highly unlikely that the present CAG Rajiv Mehrishi will come out with an adverse report against the government or attach astronomical figure to the loss to exchequer, if any.
During the UPA regime, courts became active. They were suo moto taking note of the corruptions in government departments. They shot down the government policies, cancelled licences. PILs from civil societies were gospel truth. They were directly monitoring investigations in these cases. Investigating agencies were regularly submitting reports to them.
This judicial overreach disappeared when the NDA came to power. It is highly unlikely that the courts will intervene suo moto on the issue of Rafale deal.
Action in the foreign country
In AgustaWestland chopper case, the UPA government was forced to investigate the case when the Italian Government arrested the president of the company and CEO of its chopper subsidiary.
It is highly unlikely that the French Government will take any action against officials of the French company. The French Government has come out in support of the deal rebutting Rahul Gandhi’s claims of financial irregularity.
In the absence of all these elements, there are chances that Rafale may not become a scam. It can become a scam only if the Congress has some solid documented evidence to prove its claims, which it doesn’t have. It may backfire as people may be reminded of the big-ticket scams during the UPA era.
Instead, the Congress should focus on real issues such as unemployment, mob lynching, agriculture distress. It should challenge the government on its flagship schemes such as Digital India, Make in India, and Ujjwala Yojana.