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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 14:25 GMT
Scandal confirms worst fears
Protests outside the Indian parliament by members of the opposition Congress party
Opposition Congress party members protest outside parliament
By BBC News Online's Bernard Gabony

The current arms scandal in India, in which senior officials were secretly filmed taking bribes from journalists pretending to sell arms to the defence ministry, has triggered widespread public disgust.

But for the Indian public corruption is nothing new.


It's going to be business as usual in a few weeks, a few months.

Rahul Bedi,
defence analyst
"Many people in India are already deeply cynical about politicians and say corruption is rife at all levels. On the streets of Delhi many say it needs a radical response," says the BBC's Delhi correspondent, Jill McGivering.

But while it is the governing coalition led by the Hindu BJP that is under pressure now, ordinary Indians see it as a wider problem.

"This is not a question of regulation of one government. It is really a problem and this problem should be tackled in the right way. It is not a short-term thing," one Delhi resident told Jill McGivering.

BBC News Online's Sanjoy Majumder says it is hard to underestimate the scale of the problem.

"Corruption pervades nearly every aspect of Indian life. Even mundane procedures such as applying for a driving license, school and university admission, and getting a telephone connected often need to be accompanied by a pay-off to an official to speed up the procedure," he says.

'Staggering'

Even so, Tarun Tejpal, head of the tehelka.com website that broke the story, says he and his colleagues were taken aback at what they discovered.

Indian troops in action in Kashmir
Indian troops in Kashmir load a Bofors gun
"These are public figures dealing in public finances and public money in highly sensitive positions and indulging in the most rampant graft and corruption.

" It was deeply upsetting and distressing for most of us as the story kept unfolding. The scale of the greed was just staggering," Mr Tejpal says.

Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party Marxist is one of many opposition voices now calling on the government to resign.

And he voices a widespread feeling that nowhere are the prospects riper for making an illegal buck than in the defence business.

"What we see in this entire episode is right from the lowest rung of the officials involved till the highest level.

"There seems to be a certain system that has evolved, particularly in this area of defence deals which is really frightening. There is no rung of the administration that is above it or beyond it," Mr Yechury argues.

Competence questioned

It was the Indian defence ministry that was at the heart of one of the most infamous corruption scandals of modern times, the Bofors affair.

Protests by Indian communists
Communists demand the resignation of the prime minister
The controversy over the purchase of 400 field guns from the Swedish arms firm, AB Bofors, in 1986, is still causing waves in the upper echelons of Indian society today.

Indian defence analyst Rahul Bedi says the latest scandal casts doubt not just on the honesty of defence ministry officials, but on their competence.

"This is the first time that politicians and senior military officials are actually seen pocketing large wads of currency notes into their pockets and promising the earth for a fictitious product to a fictitious agent," Mr Bedi told the BBC.

"This also shows up the levels of their naivety and their inability to check the credentials of people who come hawking their wares."

He argues that the scandal is demoralising for Indian troops stationed on the front line in Kashmir who see people "sitting at army headquarters, accepting bribes and buying up spurious equipment which the troops have to use".

So will the current scandal lead to a clean-up of Indian politics? Many are pessimistic.

"No, it's going to be business as usual in a few weeks, a few months. Officials are going to be very careful who they take money from and the amounts of money are going to multiply considerably," says Rahul Bedi.

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See also:

16 Mar 01 | South Asia
Arms scandal paralyses India
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Scandal threatens Indian coalition
14 Mar 01 | South Asia
Heads roll in India bribery scandal
09 Mar 01 | South Asia
Hindujas asked for Bofors details
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