The Mitrokhin Archives dealt with the Soviet period. The UN's Independent Inquiry Committee Report investigating corruption in Iraq's oil-for-food programme during President Saddam's regime deals with recent events. The three-man committee was chaired by Mr Paul Volcker who served two terms as chairman of America's Federal Reserve System
The report named Foreign Minister Natwar Singh and the Congress Party as beneficiaries of Iraqi corruption. The Volcker Committee based its report on four sources - Iraqi government records, UN databases and records, records of financial institutions involved in oil financial transactions, and records provided by parties involved in the purchase of oil from Iraq. The report listed 119 prominent Indian firms supplying humanitarian material to Iraq. These firms knowingly or otherwise paid kickbacks to the Iraqi government. The biggest kickbacks were paid by an obscure Indian company, Priyanka Overseas, which supplied tea, sugar and a wide variety of material to Iraq. In this same report the names of Mr Natwar Singh, the Congress and Mr Bhim Singh figure as beneficiaries. Both Mr Singh and the Congress Party rubbished the allegations. If the report has erred, Mr Volcker and colleagues will look very silly. On the other hand if either Mr Singh or the Congress Party is found eventually complicit in the oil-for-food programme, they will look more than silly
Mr Natwar Singh believes that the report targeted him because he opposed the Iraq war. He said: "I opposed sanctions, I opposed the war, and I opposed sending Indian troops to Iraq." Mr Singh's reasoning of why charges are leveled against him may well be correct. On the other hand, if it transpires that he profited from the oil-for-food programme, his arguments would turn against him. People would reasonably conclude that his vehement opposition to US policy was inspired less by conviction than pecuniary advantage derived from Iraq. The media is hot on the trail. Doubtless the truth will come out soon.
Political scandals are proliferating worldwide. These are due to the greater height and reach attained by corporate business, the closer interaction between nations in a shrinking world, and the vast accretion of power to the agencies inhabiting the spooky world of espionage. Also, the internet era gives the public much more information than was available in the past. Transparency is becoming less a choice than compulsion. In the Mitrokhin Archives the KGB is credited with the view that corruption in India was so widespread that the country appeared to be on sale. Corruption, at a time when terrorism holds the world in thrall, has acquired a dangerous dimension affecting national security. Probity in public life is not just a desirable norm. It has become a security imperative. Vulnerability to blackmail is what conspirators seek in victims they target. Corruption offers them just that. The security risk arising from a permissive attitude towards observance of law has a long and depressing history in India.
Even Pandit Nehru was not beyond reproach. During the 1962 China-India war the government seized the accounts of the Bank of China in Calcutta. It discovered an account in the name of Pandit Nehru not been declared in his tax returns. The deposits in that account came from the Soviet Union in payment for royalties of his books sold in Russia. Apparently Pandit Nehru's books were surprisingly popular among Soviet readers. Mr Morarji Desai was the Finance Minister in 1962. Much later, this scribe in a private conversation asked Mr Desai why Pandit Nehru's undisclosed bank account was not made public. "It was not in the national interest to do so," Mr Desai replied coldly. Before 1962 the Russians and Chinese were close allies and Pandit Nehru had touching faith in both. But to infer that his political ideology was influenced by the unseen pecuniary and other advantages obtained from the communist block would be uncharitable. Possibly, Pandit Nehru's failure to declare his Bank of China account to the tax authorities arose from forgetfulness similar to what afflicted Mr Jagjivan Ram when the latter failed to file tax returns for ten years.
Mr Krishna Menon's infamous Jeep Scandal arose from the purchase of sub-standard equipment from a British firm. Subsequently India steadily purchased defence equipment from Britain. Sometimes, as in the case of the Westland Helicopters purchased during Mr Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as Prime Minister, the equipment was so poor that even British forces refused to use it.
More recently an unknown offshoot of the Bofors scandal could have been the Jain Hawala Diary case. The police told the court that the illegally obtained money from abroad distributed to over 40 national politicians cutting across party lines was sourced to Mr Octavio Quattrochi, the Italian businessman whose name also figured in the Bofors case. The amount distributed to politicians in this case equaled the first known kickback in the Bofors case, the equivalent of Rs 64 crores. The politicians named in the Jain diaries were exonerated because the Supreme Court in defiance of all logic found insufficient evidence to proceed. By burying the case Kashmiri recipients of the money from the same conduit in the same case never came under the scanner. One of those Kashmiris was an obscure separatist, Salauddin, who later rose to become the chief of the Hizbul-e-Mujahideen. He is presently based in Pakistan. He deserves, of course, much more respect than India's furtive politicians who preferred to breach national security rather than admit the truth.
Potentially the most deadly security risk arises of course from the ongoing Telgi fake stamp paper scandal. The earlier fake currency notes scandal inspired the technique employed in the fake stamp paper scam. In the 1990s the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) replaced the highly reputed machines that printed Indian currency notes by inferior machines which had a suspect track record. This scribe petitioned the Mumbai court arguing that this involved a national security risk. Fake currency notes would proliferate and could finance terrorism. RBI conceded in court that the new machines were inferior and could cause teething troubles. Nevertheless the petition, again in defiance of all logic, was rejected. Fake money flooded the market. According to official agencies it was exploited by Pakistan's ISI. In the course of a police investigation RBI confessed its inability to distinguish fake currency from genuine notes. Later the printing process for currency notes was quietly upgraded. Inferior printing machines had allowed counterfeiters to produce fake notes indistinguishable from genuine notes. In the stamp papers scandal machines and dyes actually used for printing stamp papers in a government press were illegally auctioned to print fake stamp papers indistinguishable from the genuine article. Over Rs 30, 000 crores of black money has been generated by this scam. Even a fraction of this could finance an army of terrorists. The media basing itself on unofficial police briefings has named a large number of prominent political leaders cutting across party lines who were directly or indirectly involved. The prime accused, Abdul Karim Telgi, claims he is terminally ill and wants to confess revealing names of all politicians. The police are reluctant to accept his offer.
The question arises: why were printing machines for currency notes changed in the first place? Who inspired this move? While the change was being contemplated several MPs wrote letters of warning to the Finance Minister of the day. One of those MPs was Mr Somnath Chatterji, presently Speaker of Lok Sabha. The former Finance Minister is the current Prime Minister. Will Mr Manmohan Singh care to enlighten us even today?
Such cases reflect the decline of democracy subverted by greed, conspiracy and unprecedented wealth in the hands of the few who act on the truism that money is power. This will change. Worldwide exposures herald transition. Technology will ensure transparency. Democracy will triumph over the conspirators who subvert it.