Defence scam: Bangaru quits, Fernandes' offer turned down

HT Correspondent
(New Delhi, March 13)

IN A sensational exposure of the wheeling-dealing that precedes defence deals in India, Parliament was rocked when on Tuesday laid bare all that was previously in the realm of conjecture. BJP President Bangaru Laxman, who was shown taking a sum of Rs 1 lakh in a secretly taped video tape, subsequently resigned from his post. However, Defence Minister George Fernandes' offer to quit was rejected.

A select audience was treated to a four-hour-long documentary film showing top politicians, retired and serving generals and middle-men carry out a deal to sell "night vision devices" to the Indian Army by paying off the who's who in the capital's corridors of power.

Tehelka's surreptitiously filmed video footage showed BJP president Bangaru Laxman accepting a 'New Year's Party Donation' of Rs 1 lakh and asking for further payment in US Dollars. His counterpart in the Samata Party, Jaya Jaitly, was seen accepting double that amount. Major General P S K Choudary, additional director general, weapons and equipment - the man responsible for giving technical clearance to every weapons purchase of the Indian Army - is filmed pocketing Rs 1 lakh in his own house from the "liaison officer" of Tehelka's "decoy", christened West End International, to organise a trial evaluation letter for testing the "equipment" on offer. An Additional Secretary in the Defence Ministry, L M Mehta, it is suggested received a bribe for teaming up with the Maj Gen Choudary to issue the letter.

Even as the 'sleaze show' was on, Parliament was rocked and both Houses were adjourned. Clearly the expose snowballed into a major political crisis for the Vajpayee government. The first head rolled late tonight when Laxman quit as BJP president. Jaitly was unavailable for comment.

Snooping cameras caught middle-rung politicians - claiming proximity to their powerful seniors - not only accepting "donations" but also talking their heads off to "representatives" of Tehelka - West End. The two reporters who posed as senior executives of the "international company" even got Laxman to sing about the role of key officials in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in swinging dubious defence deals. Satyamurthi, a private secretary to Laxman, frankly revealed that the BJP president had "five-six different foreign accounts".

But the biggest bombshell was dropped by the Samata Party's treasurer, R K Jain, who bragged how he raised Rs 50 crore for his party's chest while pocketing a cool percentage for himself. Defence Minister George Fernandes had made him the party treasurer even though he was a political nobody. If one were to believe Jain, most NDA leaders holding key ministries are amenable to inducements.

The extent of the scandal was demonstrated by Jain's boast that his bid to wrest an agency agreement with the Russian aircraft company, Mapo MiG, had the blessings of Fernandes and Jaitly. In fact, after setting up an official meeting between MiG's chairman and the Defence Minister, he flew down to Moscow for further talks to clinch the prized agency which would have fetched him a key role in Mapo MiG's India operations besides the assurance of a hefty commission in the billion dollar Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) deal.

Jain's remarks flew in the face of the government's consistent stand that middlemen have been eliminated in defence deals. What is more, so influential has been the role of such dubious go-betweens for arms procurements, that a self confessed 'fixer' and former Infantry Major, S J Singh, could pull off a Rs 50 crore contract for the Russian manufacturer of laser guided shells, Krasnopol (sic), even though it had failed to clear five of the six technical evaluation tests.

The documentary also casts lurid light on the role of one Raj Kumar Gupta, who apart from claiming to be a "national trustee" of the RSS, specialised in clinching defence deals. Gupta boasts of spending Rs 50 lakh to build the Sangh's Jhandewalan headquarters in Delhi in 1967. But his main claim to fame, as brought out by the tapes, is the easy access he enjoys in the BJP's highest quarters.

Referred by:Balram Sampla
Published on: March 14, 2001
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