A shot in the arm for Modi

The extradition of Christian Michel, the middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper kickback case will undoubtedly prove a shot in the arm for Prime Minister Modi in the run up to the general elections. The more so, as the PM has himself been cornered by the Congress on the Rafale deal.  Public memory being proverbially short, few people will remember that the case was detected in early 2013 during the second UPA regime and the names of several senior officials including the ex-Air Chief S. P. Tyagi came up early in the investigation. The charge was that in selecting the chopper the ‘ceiling’ of the helicopters which were being purchased by the IAF for the use of VVIPs, had been lowered from the one decided earlier against payment of cut-money.
Politically, the trouble of extraditing Michel to India will be rewarding only if he is able to provide the government evidence – which will be admissible in  a court of law – that will prove, first, that  kickbacks were paid, and two, that among the beneficiaries were leaders or members of the then ruling party, the Congress. Culpability of a few senior IAF or Defence Ministry officials, even if proved, will not be a game worth the candle. What the BJP and the Prime Minister desperately need at this moment is the proof that some members of the parivar were involved in the chopper deal. That will bring grist to the rumbustious propaganda mill of the ruling party and greatly blunt the Congress propaganda of chowkidar chor hai. But in all likelihood, the case will drag on and its final denouement may be known only long after the elections are over.   
The successful extradition of Michel will also brighten the prospect of extraditing some other wanted men like Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi, Vijay Mallya etc. Depending on the nature of the disclosures that Michel makes, the government may be able to divert public attention from the Rafale issue which the Congress is doggedly pursuing. While there cannot be two opinions that the tax-payers’ money cannot be allowed to line the pockets of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats, if eventually no substance is found in the allegations, it may have a negative impact. The people at the decision-making level may try to avoid the responsibility of taking any decision in sensitive defence purchases to avoid trouble in future. The guilty must be punished but the innocent should not be made panicky.

Saturday, 8 December, 2018