PRECEDENT: The earliest precedent for the mighty tumbling down due to the efforts of investigative journalists is the resignation of US President Richard Nixon following exposure of the Watergate scam by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein at The Washington Post
BY RAJAN NARAYAN
The Modi government has threatened to arrest N Ram, the managing director of The Hindu, a leading newspaper from Chennai, for publishing what the government claims to be confidential papers stolen from the Defence Minister. If the US had done this to Bob Woodward, Richard Nixon would not have resigned and the same Hindu would have not been allowed to expose the Bofors gun scam!
Attorney General Mr Venugopal demanded that N Ram, the managing director of the “Hindu” should be arrested for carrying top secret documents connected to the Rafale deal in the paper.
What was considered classified information attracting the maximum penalty under the Official Secrets Act was a note of dissent put up by a top group of military and civil officials, objecting to Narendra Modi holding separate negotiations with the French president on the Rafale deal. Subsequently, Attorney General Venugopal virtually acknowledged that what was missing was the original documents and that the matter published in the Hindu was a xerox of the documents. Under the Official Secrets Act 1923 a person can be sentenced to a maximum imprisonment of 14 years if he refuses to divulge the name of the person who has leaked the papers.
Ironically, half the media in the world would be in jail and Modi himself would be accused of abetting the crime, if this absurd logic was applied. In 2015, the Indian Express, in collaboration with the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, published the names of Indian industrialists who had accounts in Swiss banks. Subsequently, as part of the Panama Papers leak they also released the names of Indian industrialists who had benami accounts in tax shelters like the Isle of Mann, Bermuda, the US and several such countries, including Switzerland.
The common factor in these tax shelters is that there are lawyers with whose help anybody can open any number of accounts without disclosing their own name or even their country of origin. In other words there is nothing like ‘know your customer’ norms that Indian banks are so insistent on. You cannot open an account in an Indian Bank without a PAN card or voter ID card and Aadhaar card though this has been made optional. Not only that, if you are using the bank’s credit card all amounts over
20,000 are monitored. As against the millions, if not billions, that the Nirav Modis and the Vijay Mallyas and even allegedly Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka, daughter of Sonia Gandhi, who has just become general secretary of the Congress.
But for a brave media and people within the establishment who have a conscience, many major scams would have remained hidden. The most notorious of this is the Watergate scam when two journalists from the New York Times disclosed that the Republicans had been trying to sabotage the election of the Democratic candidate John F Kennedy. When all the facts came out Richard Nixon had to resign as president of the United States. More recently Donald Trump has been accused of colluding with Russia to target his rival Hillary Clinton in the elections. Though Trump has won the election there is every possibility that he may be forced to resign or even impeached like Richard Nixon.
The biggest culprits in matchfixing in elections are social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. It is been alleged that the companies owned by Mark Zuckerberg made huge amounts of money by spreading false information in favour of Trump during the last general election. Facebook and Twitter are also reported to have been misused on a massive scale by Narendra Modi and BJP in the 2014 election. The cat came out of the bag when an article appeared in the London press claiming that Cambridge Analytics had been hired by Russia to rig the US elections in favour of Donald Trump.
The arrogance of these companies whose turnover is bigger than the Indian budget can be seen from the fact that the vice president of Facebook has refused summons from the Parliamentary committee on fair elections. Announcing the schedule for the 2019 Parliamentary elections the Chief Election Commission admitted that there was no law as of now to force Facebook companies like Facebook and Google to appear before Parliamentary committees. Indeed, they can’t even be arrested and they can refuse to provide any information.
For over five years Julian Assange has been languishing in the Embassy of Ecuador in London. His crime was to disclose the misuse and abuse of funds by the United States Defence Department including the Pentagon. The United States desperately wants to put him on trial for breach of secrecy and compromising the integrity of the US. The whistle blower is notionally wanted by Sweden on the charge of molesting a minor more than 20 years ago. But Assange is afraid that if he goes to Sweden he will be deported to the US to stand trial.
Like a good newspaper the Hindu has not been fighting only the Hindutva government of the BJP, but every government guilty of corruption. If Modi has reason to be angry with N Ram of the Hindu, Sonia Gandhi has an even greater right to get angry. More than three decades ago when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, the Bofors deal was exposed by the Hindus. The Bofors deal involved kickbacks allegedly given to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi for inflating the price of the best field guns.
The alleged middleman was Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi who was based in Delhi and very close to the Sonia Gandhi family. The CBI is alleged to have permitted Quattrocchi to leave the country even though he was banned from doing so. Besides Quattrocchi, the UK based Indian business company of the Hindujas, was also alleged to have been involved.
As in the case of the Rafale deal it was leaked information that enabled the government of the day, whether Congress or the BJP, to frame cases against the guilty. The Supreme Court dismissed attempts by the than Rajiv Gandhi government to prevent the Hindu from publishing more reports of the involvement of the Gandhi family. In fact, there was a family fight within the Hindu due to the harassment by the CBI , ED, IB, etc. And N Ram had to give the remaining part of the exposé to the Indian Express.
While he was campaigning for the 2014 election Modi had promised that he would bring all black money back. He had promised that15 lakh would be deposited in the account of every Indian from the black money recovered. Not a paisa has been deposited into the accounts of any Indian as a result of attempts to bring black money back. In fact, during the last five years, much more black money has flown out of the country to tax shelters. You can fool some of the people some of the time. You can fool all the people some of the time. You cannot fool all the people all the time.
Even as Narendra Modi has claimed that his government has not spared any effort to take action against Nirav Modi who stole
11,000 crore, he was spotted by the British media in a plush flat costing the Indian equivalent of100 crore in London. Nirav Modi, like Narendra Modi, is good at telling lies and taking people for a ride. When Nirav Modi was located in London he was wearing a jacket made of ostrich feathers worth a 10,000 pounds, equivalent of `10 lakh. Or as much as the jacket with gold thread which Modi wore when Barack Obama was chief guest at the Republic Day function.