Kasra Naji: Arms Scandal in India
Kasra Naji is a CNN Correspondent based out of CNN's New Delhi Bureau.
Q: George Fernandes, India's defense minister, resigned Thursday in the wake of an arms bribery scandal. How was this scandal uncovered?
Naji: It was uncovered by a group of journalists working for a small news website called Tehelka.com. They have been working on this project for about eight months. They set out to uncover corruption involving government arms purchases. Posing as arms dealers of a fictitious company based in London, the journalists offered bribes to the people they met to make sure that their fictitious product was considered by the government.
During these eight months, they had many meetings. They started by meeting lower level officials, then worked their way up to the top levels of government, offering bribes and kick backs along the way. At times, the bribes were not very big in terms of value. Sometimes they offered gold chains or small amounts of money. The journalists tape recorded their meetings, and have released some of these tapes. One tape shows the president of the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, receiving about $2,000 in local currency.
In another tape, there is talk about $4,000 being handed over. The amounts are not big. According to the journalists, it shows the greed of everyone involved in the corruption everyone involved in corruption at various levels of government.
Q: Has there been a statement from Fernandes?
Naji: He has resigned, saying the allegations against a whole host of officials accused of taking bribes are false. He says that the arms deals done under him were done on the merits of the weapons in question.
Q: What does the Fernandes resignation mean for the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee? Will this weaken it?
Naji: We have to wait and see how it develops. Some people say that the resignation could be a damage control mechanism to save the government. Others are saying the resignation could actually deepen the crisis here by forcing more resignations.
Q: Is there concern that this resignation will trigger further investigations?
Naji: The government is saying it is ready for any inquiry into this whole affair. However, the opposition wants the government to resign before an inquiry is held because any inquiry will not be able to do its task in an independent manor.
Q: How likely is it for the government to hold new elections?
Naji: There are going to be local elections in five states in India over the next several weeks. Already, the government is in much weaker position than it has been because of this scandal. Many people are disappointed at the extent of corruption in a government that promised to be a clean government when it came to power.
As far as the government and elections are concerned, this could not have come at a worse time.
Q: Does the uncovering of this scandal signal a new trend in investigative journalism and accountability in India?
Naji: It is an encouraging sign for journalism in this country. In fact, over the past several years, with the increase in the number of television news channels, Indian journalism has flourished and has become a very dynamic. In my opinion, this story is just the latest example of dynamic, investigative journalism in India today.
Arms scandal envelops Indian government
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