The arrest of SP Tyagi, who retired in 2007, is a moment of introspection not only for the retired officer but for the country too.
The arrest of people in high places on the charge of corruption and defrauding the exchequer shakes the confidence of ordinary people in the system and leads to cynicism in public affairs. The balance is restored only when an expeditious and fair trial leads to punishment as decreed by law in a transparent manner.
The arrest last Friday of former chief of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, who retired in 2007, is thus a moment of introspection not only for the retired officer but for the country, too. He is accused of lowering technical specifications to permit AgustaWestland, a British entity linked to Finmeccanica, an Italian firm, to sell choppers for VVIP duties. We hope a speedy trial will ensue.
While allegations flung at political leaders, including those who’ve held the office of Prime Minister, have become common and, alas, also a part of our political culture, it is generally assumed that when civilian or military officers reach the pinnacle, they have gone through a consistent process of vetting in their careers and have cleared a high bar of personal integrity. It is this which makes the arrest of Mr Tyagi intriguing.
Since a Milan Court of Appeals sentenced the CEOs of both AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica for paying bribes to secure the contract, Mr Tyagi has been extensively interrogated by the CBI. His name figured prominently in discussions in this country even earlier after it cropped up in the Italian judicial system. A cousin of the former Air Chief had close business dealings with the chopper suppliers over many years.
In light of these developments, the erstwhile UPA government ordered a CBI inquiry, and subsequently cancelled the deal in early 2014. The CBI filed an FIR against Mr Tyagi (and others) in 2013. In these three years it is not clear what kind of evidence the investigators have found. Was there a new development that necessitated his arrest?
These questions are pertinent because the CBI has a negative reputation of doing its political master’s bidding. In high-profile allegations in defence deals, the CBI has typically produced records of foreign courts, usually with little domestic corroboration. Also, no sooner was the recent arrest made than defence minister Manohar Parrikar in public comments took credit for his government being prompt in pursuing corruption cases, and contrasted this with the “slow pace” under the Congress-led UPA.
This is an effort to politicise the issue and the temptation should have been resisted if the outcome has to be transparent. In the absence of this, names of not just Mr Tyagi but public figures from the UPA era can be bandied about without a firm basis. In Mr Tyagi’s case, it is to be hoped the CBI has material that will stand up in court.