December could be a mixed bag for the ruling party but it has certainly begun well with the extradition of Christian Michel from the UAE, the first major economic fugitive sent to India during Modi’s tenure as PM. That he figured in the scam-tainted AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal under the UPA government’s watch will give ammunition to the BJP, parrying as it is Congress punches on the Rafale deal.
A handwritten note on the expenditure middlemen like Michel expected to incur to swing the deal had embarrassed the Congress a couple of years ago, as it not only gave the break-up of the payout to the IAF, the bureaucracy and the political class, it also mentioned AP, interpreted as the then Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel in the Italian trial court’s 2016 verdict.
While the prosecution in Italy wasn’t quite interested in how and who all got the goodies, as they confined themselves to the alleged bribe givers, India would certainly want to look at it from its side of the equation. The BJP is already drooling over the big secrets Michel could reveal, hoping to make it cannon fodder for the 2019 general elections.
The extradition comes at a time when the Congress is trying to slowly chip away at the BJP’s plank of hard talk on black money, citing demonetisation that arguably failed to serve its larger purpose and the Rafale deal. Yet, the dirty money card is back on the table with the advantage shifting to the BJP. It can be expected to flog the point of going after economic offenders, unlike what the Congress did in 1992—sending its foreign minister to Davos to hand over a fake document to his Swiss counterpart to scuttle the Bofors probe.
Two kites, Agusta and Rafale, are now fluttering in the air; the one that wins could go on to define the 2019 narrative. As for the law enforcement agencies, they must avoid the temptation of going on a fishing expedition to serve political ends. It’s time they redeemed themselves by quickly wrapping up the probe and holding the alleged recipients of speed money to account.