Criminality is a matter best determined in court, so it is inadvisable to speculate on the merits of a case. Yet, whichever way one looks at it, the arrest of a former Chief of the Air Staff raises very troubling queries. On the face of it the Central Bureau of Investigation would have been aware of the implications of arresting one of the most senior officials in the governance-system: implications that would impact the armed services at large since their sense of loyalty runs strong. However, given the recent conduct of the premier investigation agency there would be lurking suspicions that it was catering to a political agenda ~ note the BJP “going to town” at Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi’s stating the Prime Minister’s Office had been involved in the tweaking of qualitative requirements for VIP helicopters in the deal that soured after allegations of kickbacks surfaced in a judicial action in Italy.
It is worth noting that when the “scam” first broke Tyagi had pointed out that the National Security Adviser and Principal Secretary to then prime minister Vajpayee had advocated reducing the “operational ceiling” of the choppers because no other VIP shared George Fernandes’ passion for visiting Siachen. Also, that the deal was junked and the initial probe ordered when AK Antony tried to maintain a squeaky-clean image by cancelling defence contracts even when it meant reducing the “fire-power” of the forces. That the arrest was made when a controversially appointed “interim head” held sway over the CBI has also set political tongues wagging. The last few months have, tragically, seen the forces dragged into much political mud-slinging.
No less troubling than the politics of the Agusta Westland affair is the alleged involvement of relatives of Tyagi in brokering the deal. Propriety demanded that he immediately advise the government not to proceed in the matter once their involvement was suspected: or at least inform the government, as then Navy chief Arun Prakash did and offered to resign when a relative of his wife was involved in the “war room leak” fiasco. Senior defence officers must take pre-emptive action against their family members meddling in arms deals ~ Tyagi’s are not the only relatives of a chief to peddle arms.
If the top officers do not take the initiative they will invite a situation in which a “police clearance” is sought before a senior appointment is made. And there remains that nagging question ~ is the defence establishment (both civil and military wings) so corruption-ridden that a scam attaches itself to every acquisition? As things stand today, the defence procurement apparatus and the CBI are both under the scanner ~ to the delight of “friends” across the border.