‘There were many inquiries like this to probe the mining scam, drugs scam, casino scam, but the truth is the government did not take a single one to its logical conclusion’
PANAJI: For the Bharatiya Janata Party, the timing of the Louis Berger bribery scandal with its sensational revelation that a bribe was paid to an as-yet unknown (but presumably Congress) minister could well be the almost perfect booster-shot for a party plagued by allegations of corruption both in Goa and at the national level.
The scandal, which involves payment of alleged bribes worth $976,630 to a former Goa minister and officials around 2010 – when the Congress was in power in the state – has given the BJP’s parliamentary wing a weapon to fight back against an Opposition that has in its armoury the Lalit Modi and Vyapam scams involving the saffron party’s senior leaders. Berger-gate has also come as a gift for the BJP in Goa, which is gearing up for a lengthy and possibly stormy monsoon session of the state legislative assembly beginning July 27.
CM yet to find his feet
Besides the prospect of scoring points over the Congress, Goa Chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar desperately needs a spot of sunshine amongst his own flock, if only for a bit.
For until last week when the bribery scandal first surfaced, Parsekar, who succeeded Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as the chief political executive of Goa, was a man desperate for a break of some kind ahead of the upcoming assembly session.
With Parrikar playing super chief minister every weekend in Goa, Parsekar appeared eager to stamp his authority over his own ruling peers, especially with senior politicians like deputy chief minister Francis D’Souza, Public Works Department minister Sudin Dhavalikar and newbies like Forest and Environment minister Alina Saldanha and legislator Michael Lobo among others challenging his authority over and over again.
The Congress, decimated in the 2012 polls and reduced to an unprecedented single digit in the legislative assembly, was just beginning to raise its hood. Not to speak of tainted ministers in his cabinet and allegations of scams in land acquisition, tourism and urban development projects, a group of independent MLAs, several of whom in the past had manoeuvred for a position on the treasury benches, were also now banding together into a group to take on his government.
In Parsekar’s own legislative constituency of Mandrem, things weren’t too easy with the chief minister faring poorly in recently held zilla panchayat elections. Popular opposition to a golf course in Mandrem was regular front page news, which did not flatter Parsekar’s reputation in the media.
The Louis Berger bribery scam – in which the former PWD minister Churchill Alemao and ex-chief minister Digambar Kamat have been linked in the media – has finally given the CM a stick to brandish.
However, going by his own speedy U-turn on the matter, Parsekar, a former headmaster, may not use the stick as corporal punishment, but flaunt it as a deterrent of sorts. The chief minister first demanded a CBI probe into the bribery scandal and subsequently ordered an “initial enquiry” by the Crime Branch.
“Parsekar asking the local Crime Branch to probe the Louis Berger kickbacks is only a politically motivated gimmick to distract the people of Goa from the major issues confronting the State,” says Aires Rodrigues, a Right to Information activist who has in the past three years exposed a wider portion of the government’s underbelly than the political opposition.
There is logic in Rodrigues’s argument.
Firm favoured by Parrikar too
If the BJP in Goa overplays the ‘Louis Berger’ bribe card, the scandal may well come back to haunt them, especially because the same firm was hired by the same BJP-led coalition government, then headed by Manohar Parrikar, as a technical consultant for the upcoming Mopa greenfield airport, a project which has seen significant opposition.
The firm’s brochure on its India projects lists the senior vice president James McClung as the overseer for the Mopa project.
In the proceedings of the the New Jersey, US court, McClung confessed to paying bribes in Goa for the water project the company was executing.
But going by the track record of the BJP-led coalition, first under Parrikar and now under Parsekar, Alemao and Kamat, both of whom have been grilled in the media over their alleged role in the water project, should have little to fear about.
While Kamat has already been accused in the Justice M.B. Shah Commission report for being one of the facilitators of the Rs. 35,000 crore illegal mining scam, Alemao has been booked for a Rs. 300 crore PWD tendering scam.
But Parrikar, while he was chief minister, failed to prosecute a single Congress politician in any of the mining, drugs and casino scams which the BJP had harped on ahead of the 2012 state assembly elections.
With Parsekar now in the driver’s seat, the state government appears to be taking the same route, as lawyer Atish Mandrekar puts it.
“There were many inquiries like this to probe the mining scam, drugs scam, casino scam, but the truth is the government did not take a single one to its logical conclusion. This [the Louis Berger case] is definitely an enquiry launched on the eve of the Assembly session to silence the opposition’s voice. After that, it will be business as usual,” Mandrekar said.
The writer is Goa correspondent for the Indo-Asian News Service