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THE TEHELKA SCAM

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THE TEHELKA SCAM
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Sunanda K. Chavan
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THE TEHELKA SCAM - October 29th, 2010

On 13 March 2001, Operation Westend, a sting operation conducted by a team of journalists from the investigative journal Tehelka, exposed the corruption within the then ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The journalists posed as members of a fictitious arms company and appeared to bribe the Bharatiya Janata Party President, Bangaru Laxman, a senior officer in the Indian Army and Jaya Jaitley, the General Secretary of the Samata Party and Fernandes' companion.

Operation Westend was a sting operation aimed at sensationalizing the corruption underlying India's large defence contracts. The original investigative piece by Tehelka in 2001 targeted several members of the National Democratic Alliance. It showed several political figures, as well as army top brass, colluding to take bribes that approached 4% of orders totaling hundreds of crores in order to approve defense contracts. The minister in charge of Defence, George Fernandes of the Samata Party, resigned after the tapes were made public, but he was reinstated later. Part of the tapes show the treasurer of his party talking about accepting bribes of 1 crore or more.

The scandal caused uproar all over India and Fernandes was forced to resign from his post as a Defence Minister. He was subsequently cleared by the one man commission headed by retired Justice Phukan. Tehelka was accused of fabricating allegations and carrying out a biased and motivated campaign carried out at the behest of the political foes of George Fernandes. In the Tehelka tapes, the reporter (usually Aniruddha Bahal) is posing as a representative of the fictitious large arms supplier West End.

Armoured Recovery Vehicles: At one point, the Samata Party national treasurer RK Jain tries to convince Tehelka about his prowess in swinging deals. He mentions how in the first defence deal that he was involved in as the party treasurer, Suresh Nanda of Crown Corporation had paid the Samata Party Rs 1 crore to swing the Rs 250-crore (USD 60 million) order for Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) in favour of a Slovakian company. The following is a transcript of part of the conversation:

Samata Party treasurer R.K. Jain: "Nanda approached me. Czechoslovakia's price was the lowest, second Slovakian, third was the Poland."
Tehelka: "Haan, Haan."
R.K. Jain: "He said, 'I will give you one crore rupees in advance'."
Tehelka: "Okay."
R.K. Jain: "You get disapproved the last one. Czechoslovakia because they are so lower that we cannot match their price."
Tehelka: "Okay."
R.K. Jain: "If you can push him out. Delegation is going on to the... delegation has been ordered to go to Czechoslovakia. Stop this delegation, and technically reject this company. Here are the documents."
Tehelka: "Hmm."
R.K.Jain: "By which it's proved that this company is closed for the last two years. They will start only after getting this order."
Tehelka: "Yeah, yeah."
R.K. Jain: "I will give one crore rupees. And I will give you... if they are technically disapproved, then you are my agent."
Tehelka: "Yeah."
R.K. Jain: "For this particular... perks... and I will give you so much of commission."
Tehelka: "Okay."
R.K. Jain: "I said, 'Fine.' He gave me the correspondence. I took the correspondence to George."
(The then Defence minister George Fernandes was from Samata Party)
Tehelka: "Hmm."
R.K. Jain: "And he said, 'All right, I'll reject it.' He is a very intelligent man."...
Tehelka: Okay, it is manipulated.
R.K. Jain: He wrote straight away on the file himself. He never goes and orders to a Joint Secretary. He wrote it himself, and sent the file back. Nanda gave me one crore rupees. He called me, "Yes, Mr. Jain, the file has come down. Like you know George…"
Tehelka: Yeah, yeah.

‘Dollars, you can give dollars’: Tehelka paid BJP President Bangaru Laxman Rs 1 lakh in the second meeting with him. The following is a transcript of the tape:
Tehelka: Sir, my boss is here... in Oberoi... executive suite… so, can you arrange the appointment tomorrow? Can you arrange?
Bangaru Laxman: Tomorrow?
Tehelka: So he will come and meet you… for the party fund...
I have five lakh rupees... and today I will give you one lakh rupees. For just the beginning. A New Year gift.
Bangaru: Hmm, hmm.
(Tehelka reporter takes out wads of currency notes and hands them over to Bangaru)
Tehelka: Sir, this is a small gift…small gift.
Bangaru: Oh, no, no…
Tehelka: It’s a small gift for the New Year party. Right?
(Bangaru opens the drawer, takes money from the Tehelka reporter and puts it away)
Tehelka: New Year party fund, hain? One lakh rupee, hain?… So what time can I call my boss here?
Bangaru: Tomorrow…hmm…five o’clock.
Tehelka: Tomorrow. Rupee or dollar?
Bangaru: Dollars. You can give dollars.
(Bangaru was expecting a sum of around $25,000 from West End in the third meeting)
Tehelka: … There is basically one Israeli company there… Mr Brajesh Mishra, that principal secretary to pm, he is supporting that company… You can solve it…
Bangaru: …on Brajesh Mishra? How?
Tehelka: … Defence people told me… things don’t move in India without some political…
Bangaru: Yes, that is true, provided…. We shall try to do that… So far we have been taking the help of Brajesh Mishra to organise this because Brajesh Mishra is there on a number of committees apart from principal secretary to prime minister…
Tehelka: ... is he the only person with influence? I’m sure you carry more influence than him.
Bangaru: It’s like…. No, he deals with the bureaucracy… whatever we tell to prime minister, he also normally has a word with Mishra… And then certain things he will say that “No, no, you convey this to Mishra…”
Tehelka: ... So basically he is the lynchpin in all the dealings? Bangaru: He is…
Tehelka: … There’s a Mr Ranjan Bhattacharya also, I’m told...
Bangaru: Well, he is a family member of prime minister… he does something. But these things I don’t think he will get involved.
Tehelka: Accha. I was told that he’s got… lots of projects and all being moved…
Bangaru: Maybe... as far as defence things are concerned, I don’t think he has much… somewhat in power projects. This and that.
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