Sonia Gandhi had sought revenge for Bofors by leading the campaign against the first NDA government for alleged irregularities in the crash purchase of military stores during the Kargil conflict. Exploiting emotions, she had focused on the import of aluminum caskets. Now the Supreme Court has made what could be the definitive pronouncement on “coffingate” – it has dismissed two public interest litigations seeking rejection of the Central Bureau of Investigation&’s move to close its probe for want of evidence. Yes, the law has taken its proverbial course but extremely “telling” is the silence of the Congress president and her party on the judicial burial of the issue on which she had viciously slammed the Vajpayee government, its defence minister in particular. Has 10 Janpath/24 Akbar Road now opted to emulate the Prime Minister in keeping “mum” on what embarrasses? True that after pressing the CBI into registering a case when it returned to power the Congress did not “push” it, and Sonia Gandhi abandoned the bid to settle scores. But the vindication of the ailing George Fernandes confirms just how low she had stooped. It was not just a matter of alleging financial irregularities, the Congress had squirmed when the military hailed the decision to send the bodies of military martyrs to their homes and family for the last rites: the 500 re-usable caskets had facilitated that and struck a passionate chord with the bereaved families. That move will be remembered by the military community: it will take a great deal for the Congress/Sonia Gandhi to shake-off the stigma incurred by attempting to denigrate and politicise an honour to the fallen soldier by screaming about “coffingate”.
The larger lesson for the political fraternity is that while shortcomings in the military must be highlighted and corruption eliminated, national security is adversely impacted by irresponsible scandal-mongering netas. The acquisition process has never regained momentum after Bofors, and during AK Antony&’s stint in South Block he had allowed critical shortages to develop because he sought to create a smokescreen of personal probity. It is a matter of criminal shame that the CBI played “ball” with the politicians, even dragging a former Navy chief into the morass. Now, for the dubious conduct of his relatives, a former Air Force chief is being smeared – is this conducive to maintaining military morale, particularly when the cases all too frequently flop? The cancer has spread to the armed forces too, one former Army chief (now a minister) accused his colleagues of being corrupt, the charges remain unsubstantiated. It is high time that a White Paper is published on politically-propelled corruption allegations in the defence sector – “nailing” the crooks is important, so too is cleansing the image of those unfairly tarnished.