The Congress claims, after all, that in the first place it was the UPA government that had scrapped the deal and instituted an enquiry.
The Tuesday night extradition of AgustaWestland middleman Christian Michel from the UAE is being seen in the BJP as nothing short of a midnight coup by the Narendra Modi government, given the familiarity the British national has with the inner workings of India’s military-bureaucratic nexus, and the secrets he could spill on who the major beneficiaries could be, in the Rs 3,700 crore VVIP chopper deal case. The purported diary in the CBI’s possession — the dyslexic Michel claims he did not write but the other middleman Guido Haschke says was dictated to him — mention “fam” and “AP” as receiving millions in bribes. This is the key piece of evidence that feeds into the BJP’s narrative that the payoffs could lead to the very top echelons of the Congress, as well as bureaucrats and defence ministry personnel and the IAF itself.
But is the diary admissible evidence, given that both the Jain “hawala” diaries and the Sahara diaries that implicated Mr Modi himself were dismissed by court? While nailing the culprits may be an imperative, there are key elements here that need to be addressed, the first being the timing of the move itself. It fuels the Congress’ charge that with ruling party’s weakening hold over the BJP-run state of Rajasthan, flying the middleman in, barely 48 hours before campaigning closes in the politically-charged state, raises the fundamental question on whether Mr Michel and AgustaWestland is to the BJP, what Rafale has become to the Congress — a convenient electoral tool to score points against a vulnerable rival rather than get to the bottom of the missing millions. Second, questions are also being raised over the rationale behind involving foreign countries in domestic politics.
CBI and Enforcement Directorate investigators are, of course, gung-ho about the operation that brought Mr Michel in and stopped him from fleeing his Dubai safe haven. But with the CBI in its current state of disarray, widely seen as highly partisan, and with Mr Michel, seemingly pronounced guilty even before the investigation has begun, the government must guard itself against the Opposition’s charge that the body is now a tool that is being used to settle political scores. His lawyer’s allegation that he was being forced to name Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi as a beneficiary casts further doubt on whether the investigation will remain free from manipulation. The Congress claims, after all, that in the first place it was the UPA government that had scrapped the deal and instituted an enquiry. With India’s defence deals now par for the course in this season of electioneering, India’s defence needs must remain paramount. The toxic turn the entire Michel extradition has taken only adds to the nation’s growing disquiet that this is not so.