Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Corruption suspect Sonia morphs into a crusader

S Gurumurthy

“All across India, people are saying enough is enough. And suddenly the unthinkable is starting to happen. People considered above reproach, or at least untouchable, are coming under the judicial crosshairs. And the latest high-profile target is one of the biggest fish of all, Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi, currently No. 9 on the Forbes list of the World’s Most Powerful People.” Who says so? Dr Subramanian Swamy? Me? No. It is Cleo Paskal writing in the online news website Huffington Post on the corruption charges against Sonia Gandhi. Paskal’s article titled “World’s No. 9 Most Powerful Person Now Accused of Corruption—Will She Fall?” appeared in Huffington Post on April 25, 2011.

An award-winning journalist, Paskal writes for Sunday Times, Telegraph and the Economist. Her books have won multiple awards. An Associate Fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, the US Department of State, those consulting her include US Department of Energy, US Army War College, UK Ministry of Defence, UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, UK Defence Academy, EU, NATO, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the heads of many major corporations, and intelligence professionals from over 30 countries. Associated with Manipal University and School of Communication and Management Kochi, she is familiar with India. She blogs in Huffington Post, the world’s third most popular news website that commands over 38 million visitors viewing half-a-billion pages every month. Founded in 2005, it became instant success. In February this year, AOL acquired it for $315 million (`1,450 crore). In 2008, the Observer, London, rated Huffington Post, the winner of several awards, as the worlds’ best blog. Now back to Paskal on Sonia.

Acknowledging that Sonia’s “image is of a dutiful, submissive Indian wife, now widow”, Paskal notices the “growing, persistent murmurs about questionable business deals and inexplicable exponential jumps in the personal wealth of her and her family”. Paskal recalls “the ground-breaking articles” that M D Nalapat, a senior journalist, had written about Sonia in 1995 in “the Times of India”. Paskal says that Nalapat’s comment that her “public docility was just a ploy” and “she had serious political ambitions”, was “later confirmed by her role in the Congress”. Paskal also emphasises Nalapat’s view that “her desire for power wasn’t simply altruistic and that the wealth not only of her, but of her Italian relatives, rose stratospherically after Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister in 1984”. Paskal points out that while his articles were undisputed; Nalapat was forced out of journalism in 1998 when, as he had predicted, Sonia took over the Congress.

Then Paskal cites the “public questions from another highly reputed source, Sten Lindstrom, Sweden’s special prosecutor”, who investigated the Bofors pay-off scam. Paskal points out Lindstrom’s interview in 1998 in which he had said that “the Gandhis, particularly now Sonia, should explain how Quattrocchi-owned companies got such fat sums as payoffs from the Bofors deal. After all, what is the connection of Sonia and the Gandhi family to Quattrocchi? Who introduced Quattrocchi and his AE Services to Bofors? At least one thing is certainly known now. A part of the payoffs definitely went to Quattrocchi. (...); the papers all pointed to the Gandhi family.” Paskal points out, “Not only have the questions not been answered by Sonia, but in spite of substantial evidence against him, Quattrocchi has managed to evade prosecution in India, and has even had his kickback funds unfrozen from overseas accounts.”

“But the most serious threat to Sonia,” warns Paskal, “is now lying on the desk of the Prime Minister of India.” That is Dr Subramanian Swamy’s written request to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for sanction to prosecute Sonia for corruption. Paskal says: “In a meticulously researched 200-plus page submission, Dr Swamy alleges Sonia Gandhi has been involved in corruption in India since 1972 and personally benefited from the Bofors scam (1986), has held billions in non-Indian bank accounts since at least 1991, illegally profited from the Iraqi oil-for-food deals (2002), and even accessed KGB payoffs during the Cold War.” Obviously Paskal has read the complaint thoroughly. Adding that the Prime Minister has three months’ time to grant or reject the request, she says, “If he doesn’t, Dr Swamy can take the case directly to the Supreme Court, which, under Chief Justice Kapadia, is showing a definite proclivity towards facilitating corruption cases.” “Given the growing importance of India in our heavily globalised world,” Paskal concludes, the permission sought to prosecute Sonia “is not just an Indian story; this is one all should be following very closely indeed.” In Paskal’s view, the bribery charges against Sonia will have global reach.

Now shift to the Indian scene. With most mainline media blacking out the truth, the people are unaware of much of what Paskal says about Sonia’s suspected corruption. On the contrary, they see a saint in her. Result: Sonia, who Paskal suspects as corrupt, nonchalantly proclaims ‘Zero Tolerance’ to corruption. And the mainstream media, sidestepping questions over her integrity, celebrates her resolve more. Sonia laments that Indians have “become greedy”, their “moral universe has shrunk”, and the media eulogises her candidness. Further. Declaring support to Anna Hazare, who staked his life for anti-corruption law, she earns Anna’s gratitude and media glory. But she forthwith lets the Sibals, Digvijays and Tiwaris to set upon Bhushans, Anna’s men, and also shockingly disapproves of them. Yet the media does not ask her how her minions could defy her. Finally, the mainstream media has blacked out Dr Swamy’s “meticulous” complaint against Sonia. A reader’s gratitude to Paskal for “shedding light on an issue that is taboo in Indian mainstream media” tells the true story. QED: Sonia, a suspect, is now morphed into a crusader.

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