The UPA'scover up operation on the Paul Volcker report on Iraq oil scam is looking like a replay of the Bofors scandal of the late eighties. Then also the entire exercise was to save the top leader of the party, whom many believed as the chief beneficiary. The Bofors inquiries led the nation nowhere and ended in a whimper. But the political price was heavy. It is unlikely that the present probe will also yield any credible result unless the political system extends unscrupulous loyalty to truth and fair-play.
The way the Congress Party and the government react to the UN report, and the manner in which Shri Natwar Singh and the Prime Minister go about claiming innocence even after the inquiry commission is set up and the enthusiasm with which the Communist Party of India (Marxist), pastmasters in the game of playing foreign tunes and political obfuscation, the opaque style of the UPA establishment'sfunctioning?all this put a question mark on the genuineness of the effort.
In the first place, after conceding to an inquiry, and divesting Natwar Singh of his ministry there was no justification for Manmohan Singh to certify that Volcker has no proof, it is insufficient and Natwar Singh is innocent. There is no word on the Congress and its chief, who are equally, if not more at fault in the oil scam. How did the Congress chief acquiesce her party and colleague to Saddam Hussein'slargesse, at the cost of a purely humanitarian initiative of the UN? Volcker, who is a former chief of the US Federal Reserve, along with two other eminent investigators, were appointed by the UN to unearth the truth about the ?oil for food? programme, in Iraq, which faced flak from many quarters. Its primary job was to expose the ugly face of corruption in the UN and how high profile humanitarian programmes get derailed by milching UN officialdom. In this the Congress and Natwar Singh appeared along with thousands of other beneficiaries world over is a matter of India'sshame. There are 125 Indian companies also mentioned out of over 2500 entities, listed in the report.
The muck thrown by the UN report completely exposed the vulnerability and weakness of the UPA coalition. Not only that the image of the government is irretrievably tainted, it shows up the Cabinet as a divided house on crucial foreign policy issues. How can a minister continue in the Cabinet when he has such fundamental difference with the Prime Minister on important diplomatic initiatives?
The role of foreign money in the well-being of the UPA constituents had become clear after The Mitrokhin Archives II revelations. The Communists and the Congress were equally involved in it. So the two joined hands to give it a hasty burial. Mitrokhin was accused of fictional liberties and dismissed as sensationalism. That was a convenient scapegoat. The new report is more damning. It proved extremely embarrassing to both Congress and Natwar Singh. It took two weeks for the Prime Minister to act on the report though the Congress has not atoned yet. The issue is of political morality in public life. Legal turpitude, if any will come only after the inquiry is over. Why did the Congress and Natwar Singh react the way they did when the report first hit headlines on October 28? The question of concern is the way foreign funds can influence national policy. The Congress and Natwar Singh were allotted four million barrels each of oil. Natwar Singh was then head of the Congress foreign policy cell. He may have only been a conduit for the flow of funds to the Congress. That is why he is defiant and blackmailing.
Under pressure Natwar Singh acted reckless. He took to extreme foreign policy positions, calling for reversing India'sIAEA vote, ruing the collapse of Soviet Union, proposing a non-aligned front against the US, accusing Volcker of bias because of Saddam'ssupport to Indira Gandhi and alluding to India'sforeign policy proclivities to Indian Muslims. All these bring the pivotal question of political ethics. Are Natwar Singh'sfulminations in line with the UPA government'spolicy? Does the Congress subscribe to his ideas? If not, why is the party quiet and how can Singh continue as Cabinet Minister, when his ideas are the antithesis of the national policy framework?
The second question is how could the Congress and Natwar take the coupon under food for oil, since both are not in the business of either food or oil? This smacks of a kickback, and the emergence of a third party to make good the coupon. Even without this dubious gift, the two could have served Saddam'scause, if they were inspired by Third World idealism. The problem is Natwar claims loyalty to Nehruvian ideas but keeps laissiez-faire standards in personal conduct. A relic of the past out of sync with times. Like a Krishnamachari or Shastri he could have put in his papers when the expose came, but talking high he dug in his heels. The Congress even threatened a defamation suit against the UN! The deception is too glaring and loud.