Congress and corruption has become synonymous in public imagination. The correlation is not unwarranted. The history of Congress is inundated with countless scams, big and small. However, the most reprehensible scams during Congress’ rule are the ones in defence sector. These scams not only cost hundreds of crores of taxpayers’ money but also jeopardized India’s military capabilities resulting in Indian Army fighting with sub-standard, outdated equipment, a problem which the current dispensation has recognized and has worked towards rectifying through defence modernisation programme. Beginning with the rule of Nehru and right up to the last months of Manmohan Singh led UPA 2, here are some of the scams during Congress rule.
The Jeep Scam – First-ever scam of Independent India, a Congress gift from Jawaharlal Nehru
Just as India became independent and even before India became a republic, the plundering of the nation in the name of scams was started by the Congress. At the centre of the Jeep scam was the then Indian High Commissioner to the UK, V K Krishna Menon, a favourite of PM Nehru who was later even made the Defence Minister. Backed by the PMO’s office, Menon bypassed the code of procedure and inked a Rs. 80 lakh contract with a foreign firm for the supply of 200 jeeps for the Indian army. Despite paying the contract money upfront, only 155 jeeps arrived. Nehru not only abruptly ended the probe, but also made V K Krishna Menon the Defence Minister.
The Submarine Scam – One from the Indira Gandhi Era
The deal involving the purchase of submarines in 1981 got stained with criminal conspiracy to clinch the deal in favour of the HDW, a West German Company. Senior officials and the members of the committee were accused of changing various technical and financial parameters in such a way that HDW, which was second all along, came first. The sale completed in 1982, when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Investigators said the payments began in 1982 and continued until the middle of 1988.
V.P. Singh, the then Defence Minister called for the investigation. But, he later resigned from the Defence Ministry in 1987 under Rajiv Gandhi government after political pressure stalled his investigation into the sale of the submarines. This points to the hidden unscrupulous gains that the Gandhi family and its associates may have received in the defence deal.
The investigating authorities later filed criminal cases against six people, including a former Secretary of Defence and a top Indian industrialist, accusing them of involvement in illegal kickbacks in a contract for submarines with West Germany worth about $300 million dollars.
Bofors Scam – The ‘Mother of All Scams’ by Rajiv Gandhi
One of the biggest scandals in modern India’s history that brought down the Rajiv Gandhi government was the Bofors scam unearthed by a Swedish whistle-blower, involving the kick-backs of Rs. 64 crore.
In March 1986, a multi-million dollar contract between the Government of India and Swedish arms company Bofors was signed for the supply of 410, 155mm Howitzer field guns.
Rajiv Gandhi was first accused of being at the centre of a huge kickbacks and bribery deal. Later he was even accused of protecting Ottavio Quattrocchi, the main accused in this case. Quattrocchi, an Italian middleman, was said to be close to Rajiv through his wife Sonia Gandhi. The Bofors scam has showed how Congress corruption culture spread from top to bottom even involving Prime Minister of India and his family.
On the Bofors deal, General K Sundarji, who served as Army Chief during Rajiv Gandhi’s time said, “Yes, I feel not only myself, but the Indian army is being made a scapegoat in the entire Bofors drama. As armymen our duty was to recommend high quality weapons. But the real weapons deal is primarily a political decision. Today, we are being blamed for the purchase of the Bofors howitzers.”
Boeing Aircraft Scam 2009 – Congress’s corruption spread wings during Sonia-Rahul Era
CAG unearthed a scam from the books of the UPA government by digging out problems in a deal with Boeing. A 2009 deal negotiated and signed by the UPA government had facilitated the procurement of eight P-8I Poseidon Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance Anti-Submarine Warfare (LRMR-ASW) aircraft from US aircraft manufacturing firm, Boeing.
CAG, in its report, has slammed the government and held that the Boeing-manufactured planes were wrongly declared cheaper than their European competitor, with shoddy discharge of offsets, partially fulfilled anti-submarine warfare capabilities and aircraft’s limited radar coverage. So, not only had the UPA government selected a costlier deal but they also seem to have gone through with a deal that wasn’t even the best suited for the forces.
Adarsh Housing Society Scam – Congress under Sonia-Rahul Gandhi steals from widows of Martyrs
The Congress didn’t spare even the resources dedicated for the departed souls who laid their lives protecting our country. A 31-storey apartment complex, called the Adarsh Housing Society, was built in Colaba in South Mumbai for 1999 Kargil war heroes and war widows. In 2010, it was revealed that large scale violation of rules concerning land ownership and other norms was perpetrated by Congress partymen to get flats allotted to themselves and their relatives, with the Congress CM, Ashok Chavan, owning 3 flats in Adarsh Society.
AgustaWestland – Mrs Gandhi, the driving force of a corrupt VVIP Chopper Deal
In 2013, it came to light that the Congress, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, had laid the foundation of yet another big defence scandal – the VVIP Chopper scam. The Congress-led UPA government had signed a contract with UK-based helicopter manufacturing company AgustaWestland to purchase helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs. 3,600 crore. Middlemen conversations in this murky deal credit a certain Mrs. Gandhi as the driving force behind the deal. A point to note is that close to Rs. 195 crore worth of commission being budgeted for distribution among decision-makers in India.
Tatra Truck Scam – Sonia and Rahul Gandhi Era
Alleged irregularities were involved in the purchase of the all-terrain Tatra vehicles by the Indian Army from the Bharat Earth Movers Limited during the UPA era. In the UPA era, this Rs 750 crore worth scam occurred in the purchase of Tatra trucks and their components. A report by defence journalist Nitin Gokhale says, “Tatra all-weather all-terrain trucks are used to transport missiles, artillery and troops. These trucks are manufactured in the Czech Republic. The cost to the country has been huge. A 4×4 Tatra truck, for example, costs between 40 to 50 lakhs in Europe. It was sold by BEML to the Army at nearly double that price.”
He further adds, “The top dollar paid for the trucks wasn’t matched by performance. A whistleblower named Anil Bakshi reveals that the Army has, for a while, been unhappy with the performance of the Tatra trucks. Mr Bakshi was a defence contractor for the Indian Army and was contracted to prep vehicles for the Army’s use after they had been bought. In 2009, he said that 45 Tatra trucks arrived with faulty or damaged tyres and old batteries. He refused to clear them for usage.” Even General VK Singh, the then chief of the Army, had disclosed that he was offered a bribe of Rs 14 crores by Lt Gen Tejinder Singh to clear sub-standard trucks. Co-incidentally, Lt Gen Tejinder Singh was also involved in the Adarsh Housing Society scam under UPA.
Scorpene Deal Scam – During Sonia and Rahul Gandhi Era, Congress’s corruption moved towards waters
This scam from the UPA era is one in which Rs 500 crore is alleged to have been paid to government decision makers by Thales, the makers of the Scorpene submarine. The amount was said to have been channelled via middlemen and the prime accused was Abhishek Verma, son of former Congress MP and also a suspect in the 2013 AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters bribery scandal.
As the number of scams demonstrates, Congress has manipulated and disregarded the defence acquisition procedures to accrue or award benefits to favorable entities while jeopardizing the capabilities of the Indian armed forces.