How embarrassing it is when a former chief of the Indian Air Force is referred to as a “gorgeous girl” by petty wheelers and dealers!
No ‘Air Chief Marshal’, not ‘sir’, hell, not even ‘Signora’. Just ‘guili’ — Italian for gorgeous girl. In one word, the pride of the nation’s premier fighter force reduced to the level of a gangster’s moll, a Mona Darling to Lion, if you will.
But that’s exactly the appellation and fate that has allegedly fallen on former chief of the Indian Air Force SP Tyagi. According to media reports, “gorgeous girl” was how Guido Ralph Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, the Italian middlemen in the AgustaWestland deal, preferred calling Tyagi.
In popular perception, being part of the Indian fighter squad is seen as the pinnacle of bravery. Flying aircrafts that beat the speed of sound and defy gravity to bring down the enemy in aerial combat is the dream of millions of youngsters.
Even ordinary pilots in their aviator glasses and crisp uniforms inspire awe, envy and respect. A scene in Leonado diCaprio’s Catch Me If You Can, when he impersonates a commercial pilot and is mobbed by children and women for autographs is not far from reality.
It is sad to see Tyagi’s alleged involvement in the chopper deal bringing much disrepute to the elite fighting force of the country. Images of the former IAF chief arriving outside the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) headquarters, TV grabs of him being shoved around, jostling and arguing with the media — he called them “inhuman”– and being heckled in public are simply humiliating.
To be fair to Tyagi, he is just an accused in the Rs 3,600 crore deal for buying choppers from the Italian firm. It is alleged that Tyagi and his brothers pocketed money for changing specifications for the benefit of the seller. According to the CBI chargesheet, Tyagi reduced the minimum height for choppers from the original 18,000 feet to 15,000 feet so that Agusta may qualify as a seller. Tyagi has denied all this.
But, the former chief’s conduct has hardly been like that of the proverbial Caesar’s wife.
According to the CBI, he traveled several times to Italy to meet the middlemen. “… On 25-03.2012, Haschke and Gerosa accompany Tyagi (aka Giuli) to the airport of Milan/Malpensa and on the return trip, they make a general summary. They agree that Giuli is agitated about the (Italian) investigation,” according to one of the recorded conversations shared by Italy with the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Documents shared with India also reveal that Tyagi visited Milan in March 2012 while the Italian agencies were investigating corruption allegations in the Agusta deal. It was likely during this visit that Tyagi, or ‘Giuli’, was agitated about the Italian inquiry.
Corruption in defence deals is an established fact. When news of the Agusta scam broke, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi argued that “bribes are an essential part of doing business internationally”. In an interview with the state-owned TV channel RAI 3, he argued that giving bribes to secure international contracts could not be “considered a criminal act”. And that magistrates were forcing Italian companies to “commit economic suicide”.
India has had its fare share of controversies because of Bofors guns, HDW submarines, Tetra trucks and Kargil coffins. When former BJP president Bangaru Lakshman was caught accepting money from Tehelka investigators in disguise, that was also about defence deals for fictitious companies.
But Tyagi is the first Indian chief to be dragged into the controversy. It is the first time in India’s history that the trail has led to a decorated top officer, tarnishing the image of a force that is considered the epitome of discipline, a rare marvel of engineering and human bravery.
‘The defender. Do you want to be the one?’ a recruitment ad of the Air Force asked youngsters in 2015. Tyagi’s plight is an embarrassing antithesis. Watching him dragged to the grilling chambers, not many would be inspired to be the one.
The only saving grace is that Tyagi’s fate reinforces the belief that even the high and mighty can be brought to book for corruption. They can no longer hide behind their insignia, seva medals, past glory and contacts.
Manna De famously sang in Upkaar, ‘Aasmaan mein udne wale, mitti main mil jayega.‘
Hope our gorgeous girls remember these glorious words.