A CPI(ML) Weekly News Magazine
Vol. 16, No. 9, 19 – 25 FEBRUARY 2013
The AW-101 Chopper Scam:
Another Skeleton from India's Defence Cupboard
As the beleaguered UPA government braces for the Budget session of Parliament and the country gets ready for an unprecedented two-day general strike called jointly by all recognised central trade unions, yet another defence purchase scam has come to light resurrecting the memories of the Bofors scam that had nailed the coffin for the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1989. This time round, the scam concerns a dozen VVIP choppers bought from the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, the contract is valued at Rs 3,760 crore and kickbacks paid to the Indian side reported amount to 10 per cent of the contract value which works out to more than Rs 370 crore.
With a view to pre-empting the chopper scam from snowballing into a political earthquake, the government is pretending to adopt a belatedly pro-active posture. It has ordered a CBI inquiry and issued a show-cause notice to the firm to cancel the contract by invoking the 'integrity pact' which prohibits the payment of bribes to influence defence deals. Defence Minister AK Antony has also talked about blacklisting Finmeccanica, the Italian conglomerate of which AgustaWestland is a UK-based subsidiary if bribery charges are to be proved. The government must not be allowed to get away with this belated show of activism and the truth of India's defence purchases must be exposed in its entirety.
A few questions demand immediate answer. Bribery charges against Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi – who was the head of AgustaWestland at the time of finalisation of the chopper contract in 2010 and subsequently took charge of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica – have been under investigation in Italy since 2011. His arrest a week ago may have been hastened by the elections due in Italy later this month. Finmeccanica is after all Italy's second largest industrial group with high stakes in core sectors like aeronautics, defence, energy and transportation and the Italian government owns 30% shares in the company. Why has the Government of India been sitting idle since the scam came to light in 2011, reacting only now after Mr Orsi has been arrested? And instead of entrusting the CBI which is notoriously slow and politically pliable why can't we have a special investigation team monitored directly by the Supreme Court?
It has now turned out that the Obama administration had rejected the offer of AgustaWestland for similar VVIP choppers finding it too costly. Instead White House opted for the more economical option of upgrading its existing fleet. The question obviously arises why the government of India did not bother about the exorbitant price and went ahead with the deal? This clearly shows the Indian government's profligacy when it comes to defence purchases, and the reason is obvious: the people involved in defence deals are assured of part of the inflated costs coming back to their pockets as kickbacks! Finmeccanica has been an important defence supplier for India since 1970s and for one AW-101 chopper scam that has come to light one wonders how many scams must have been buried unknown!
This brings us to the larger issue of India's defence purchases. In March 2012, Defence Minister AK Antony had informed the Rajya Sabha that during 2007-11 India had emerged as the world's largest arms importer leaving China way behind. According to the Stockholm International Peace research Institute, India accounted for 10% of world's arms imports while China's share was just 5%. The reason why Chinese share is so low is answered by China's success in indigenisation of much of its defence requirements while India continues to depend heavily on imports and scams continue to thrive. India's defence budget is never subjected to any rational scrutiny and is treated as a holy cow in the name of national security. How many more scams will it take to convince us that the defence budget is routinely raised and inflated only to hide more scams even as the government of India claims not to have the resources to spend for public health, education and other key social sectors?
And finally we now know the key Italian actors responsible for the scam some of whom are already in jail? When will we know about their Indian counterparts and when will they be in prison? And if the government can blacklist Finmeccanica on bribery charges what prevents the government from blacklisting Wal-Mart on exactly the same ground? After all, it is on Wal-Mart's own record that bribes have been paid in India to lobby for Wal-Mart's entry.
Nationwide Trade Union and General Strike is Enormously Successful on 1st Day (20th Feb) of the 2-day Strike
CPI(ML) and AICCTU Congratulate the Working People for the Massive Response
The two-day (20-21 February) Nationwide strike called by central trade unions including the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) and supported by Left parties including the CPI(ML) has been a massive success on the 1st day of the strike- 20th February, by the time we go to press.
AICCTU has heartily congratulated the working class and the general working people of the Country for their militant and collective response in effecting the unprecedented Nationwide strike. Congratulating the organised and the unorganised working class and the common working people the AICCTU said that their resolute action that has made the strike a huge success was all the more commendable given the Govt's warning and attempt to create confusion among the working people. The Govt had also tried to pressure the central TUs who refused the plea of the Govt to call off the strike.
CPI(ML)Liberation had given a call in October 2012 itself to turn the two-day strike called by central TUs into a general strike. Subsequently, most of the State committees and different level of Party committees had passed resolutions in their State Conferences and meetings to that effect. Today (20 February) the states of Bihar and Jharkhand is completely bandh supporting the strike. At Patna, the march to ensure a successful bandh was led by Party General Secretary, Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya.
Among other reports from industries and states so far, financial institutions including banks and insurance are completely bandh, the tanneries are completely bandh in Kanpur, in Delhi auto-rickshaws and taxis are completely off the road, transport strike is near total in states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, AndhraPradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, and organised as well as the huge unorganised sector has completely struck work.
The two-day strike has been called on the following charter of demands:
(1) concrete measures to contain price rise, (2) concrete measures for employment generation, (3) strict enforcement of labour laws, (4) universal social security cover for organized and unorganized workers and creation of National Social Security Fund and (5) stoppage of disinvestment in Central and State PSUs / Undertakings, (6) No Contractorisation of work of permanent/perennial nature and payment of wages and benefits to the contract workers at the same rate as available to the regular workers of the industry/establishment, (7) Amendment of Minimum Wages Act to ensure universal coverage irrespective of the schedules and fixation of statutory minimum wage at not less than Rs 10,000/- linked with cost price index, (8) Remove all ceilings on payment and eligibility of Bonus, Provident Fund; Increase the quantum of gratuity, (9) Assured Pension for all, and (10) Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days and immediate ratification of the ILO Conventions Nos. 87 and 98.
Demand Justice in the Suryanelli Rape Case
Anti-rape protesters have been outraged by the fact that the new rape law will be discussed in Parliament, with a rape-accused presiding over the discussions! The Deputy Speaker of the Rajya Sabha, PJ Kurien, is accused in the Suryanelli rape case: a case of gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Kerala, 17 years ago.
The 16-year-old girl in Kerala's remote Idukki district, was defrauded by a man whom she had befriended, was drugged, beaten and taken to places across the Tamil Nadu and Kerala countryside, where she was raped by around 40 men. Eventually she was put on a bus back home, after which she filed a complaint of rape. 40 persons were named as accused in the main petition, by the State Government. The rape survivor later saw Kurien's photograph in a newspaper and recognized him to be one of the rapists, and filed a private petition against him to the court, when the police refused to register her complaint against him.
Kurien had tried to appeal against his being named as an accused, but his appeal was rejected thrice: by the lower court, by the High Court and by an Additional Sessions Court. A Special Court had convicted 35 of the 40 accused in the original case. A division bench of the Kerala High Court, in 2005, however, overturned the convictions, in a shockingly misogynist verdict. Only one man was found guilty of sex trade (procuring and selling a minor for purposes of prostitution). Only after that, based on the acquittal of the other accused in the main petition, was the case against Kurien rejected by the Kerala HC and later the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile the rape survivor also faced political victimisation, being falsely accused of financial irregularities and losing her job.
However, the Supreme Court recently responded to the appeal against the 2005 verdict, expressing dismay at the verdict and setting aside the Kerala HC's acquittal of 2005. The case has been sent back to the HC for a fresh look.
Several crucial witnesses, including the man convicted in the case, have now stated that Kurien was in fact guilty and that the prosecution had made them suppress facts.
The Kerala HC verdict of 2005, shockingly, seems based more on the judges' view of the girl's morals rather than on the facts of the case. Based on its moralizing, it concludes that the girl was a prostitute who agreed to sex with 40 men by consent. For instance, the verdict comments that the girl's "inclination to have such friendly relationship with a stranger like Kochumon must also be taken note of while appreciating her evidence." It notes that "She is thus shown to be a girl of deviant character. She was not a normal innocent girl of that age." One of the judges notes that "It is easy to assume that no minor if prudent and intelligent, and if her faculties of reasoning and sense of righteous behaviour are properly developed and intact, would choose in the Indian context to consent to extra marital and pre marital sexual intercourse…. In the fiercely consumerist society that we live in, a young girl child is also exposed to so many temptations that it is difficult for the child which has not been groomed in proper atmosphere with a proper value system inculcated in it, to resist such temptations. Such children can be termed deviants but cannot be merely condemned and left to their fate." And therefore the judge advices raising of the age of consent to 18 years rather than 16! The verdict shares all sorts of patriarchal ideas about how a 'righteous' and 'good' girl would behave, and with all the patriarchal moral outrage and disgust, brands as 'deviant' a young girl who chooses to fall in love with a man. Once assumed to be a 'deviant', her own testimony about being raped by other men is viewed by the judges with suspicion, based on their assessment about her character and morals. And at the end, while doing a grievous injustice to the complaint of rape and branding her a liar, they ask that the freedom of all young girls of 16-18 years, to have friendships of their own choice, be restricted by raising the age of consent! One of the Judges who delivered that verdict has recently said on TV that the girl was a 'deviant' and a 'child prostitute.'
The Congress party has shamefully yet to remove Kurien from his post as Deputy Speaker of the RS. Moreover, asked by a woman journalist about the Kurien case, UPA Overseas Minister Vayalar Ravi made a sexist remark, asking her whether she too had had a past relationship with Kurien! The Congress is yet to act against either Kurien or Ravi.
Speaking to a national daily, the rape survivor who is fighting for justice said, "I am no longer the 16-year-old school girl who fell for her first love, and lost her life. Yet, at 33, I am battling the same nightmares; my world is a grey longwinding road that stretches from my house to church and office.
People have a tendency to smirk when I recount the 40 days when I was turned into a female body that could be used anyway they liked — sold like caged cattle, pushed into dark rooms across the state, raped day and night, kicked and punched. ...I can remember all those faces clearly. Raju comes first. The man I loved, and trusted. That he would turn me into the victim of Kerala's first sex racket was the twist in my love story. The man whose face I searched for during my every day trip to school was one among the many I had to point to in an identification parade, and come face-to-face in the court corridors. In those days, I really wanted to kill him, my first love.
I feel relieved that the Delhi girl died, or she would have faced the same pointed, porn-tinted questions from everywhere, forced to explain countless whys, and would have had to live a life fearing her own shadow and without a friend.
I belong to the Latin Church which is the largest individual church in the Catholic Church, but in all these 17 years, not even a single prayer was said for me in any church anywhere. No rosaries marked the Hail Marys, and no angels came to my doorstep to offer kind words.
But my belief has not wavered. It gives me the strength to watch 24/7 news channels where the protectors of law call me a child prostitute, and eminent personalities discuss why my case won't stand. Even when I am framed in a financial fraud case in my office, and when my parents go down with major health problems, I convince myself that this too would pass. One day."
Protest Against Victimisation of Kashmiri Students
In Dehradun, too, Kashmiri students protesting against the recent killings in Kashmir, the blockade and the hanging of Afzal Guru, were beaten up on 12 February by Bajrang Dal goons and arrested. Kashmiri youth, who had not even participated in the protest, were also beaten up in the market place by the Bajrang Dal mob, which demanded that the police book the Kashmiri youth for sedition or else 'hand them over' to the lynch mob. Democratic intelligentsia, activists, and journalists intervened and eventually the 16 Kashmiri youth were released late at night on bonds.
On 16 February, at Gandhi Park, Dehradun, there was a joint Left protest against the incident, demanding:
1. Immediately drop all the charges against the protesters.
2. Arrest all the Bajrang Dal/BJP goons as people have enough proof (visual and otherwise) to identify them.
3. Suspend all the police officers who participated in this brutal attack and shielded the right wing goons.
Protesters included Indresh Maikhuri and Malti Haldar, State Committee members of CPI(ML), the CPI(M)'s Uttarakhand State Secretary, CPI's State Secretary, and leaders of CPI(ML) New Democracy, as well as Gautam Navlakha and several others.
Edited, published and printed by S. Bhattacharya for CPI(ML) Liberation from U-90, Shakarpur, Delhi-92; printed at Bol Publication, R-18/2, Ramesh Park, Laxmi Nagar, Delhi-92; Phone:22521067; fax: 22442790, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.cpiml.org