B S Raghavan

WikiLeaks: Enough material for a probe

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on March 22, 2011 Published on March 19, 2011

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Raising objections about the veracity and evidentiary value of the Wikileaks documents is nothing but an attempt by the Government to shirk its accountability to the people.

When We, the People, were writhing in pain at India being called “a rotten state” by The Economist, we have been further smitten by the thunderbolt of the Wikileaks cables, carried by The Hindu, about the hefty payoffs to some Indian MPs for casting their votes in favour of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal. There was justifiably an uproar over the allegation in both Houses of Parliament. The official line on the shocking contents of the cables takes the cake for disingenuousness. It can only stem from an arrogant presumption that the people are fools.

It is sad that Mr Pranab Mukherjee, holding the position of the second most senior Minister in the Government, should advance flimsy, almost frivolous, explanations based on trite technicalities. How can a crime be extinguished without needing any investigation, simply because it was committed during the tenure of a previous Lok Sabha that has since been dissolved?

Mr Mukherji, more than anyone else, ought to know that only the business pending in the Lok Sabha lapses with its dissolution and not penal crimes such as payments of bribes, which have no period of limitation. The Government in this matter cannot evade its responsibility to set in motion a thorough-going investigation under the law insofar as the Indian citizens involved in the commission of the crime are concerned.

Howlers

Mr Mukherji has also taken the stand that functionaries of the US embassy, who had purportedly sent the cables to their superiors in Washington, could not be approached for ascertaining the basis of their statements as they had diplomatic immunity. But he could certainly take it up officially with the US Government. His statement that he could neither confirm nor deny the allegations begs the question: What prevents Mr Mukherji, if he was sure of the facts at his end, from strongly denying the allegations?

There are other howlers from the side of the Congress party and official spokespersons. The first is that no one can vouch for the veracity of the contents of the documents and, hence, they have no evidentiary value and cannot form the basis for launching any probe.

This is a misleading contention. It is nobody's case that the contents of the leaked documents should straightaway be used for prosecuting the individuals named. The Indian Criminal Procedure Code provides for registering a case and starting an investigation “on information received”. It is enough if the information received, from whichever quarter or in whatever form, discloses the likelihood of the commission of a crime. Even a functionary at the level of the officer-in-charge of a police station has the authority to take up the case for investigation.

At that stage, the purpose is to verify the truth of the information and only when there is sufficient material to make out a prima facie case do proceedings in the court follow.

Shirking accountability

No one can deny that the leaked documents contain ample verifiable information recorded in the normal course of their official duty at the relevant time by senior diplomats such as the US Ambassador, Chief of Mission, Political Counsellor and Charge d'Affairs. Their official communications to their parent government were prepared immediately after the occurrence of the event, whether it was an interview or conversation or visit, and apparently without any motive other than keeping their government posted.

The existence of contemporaneous documents and their mention of certain happenings are facts that cannot be brushed aside lightly.

So, raising objections about veracity, evidentiary value, and so on, as a pretext for avoiding a proper investigation into those very aspects is nothing but a deliberate attempt by the Government to shirk its accountability to the people.

The Congress party spokespersons, who are also eminent lawyers, have glibly sought to pull the wool over the people's eyes by diverting attention to the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee set up to go into the allegation of certain members of the BJP about the offer of bribes to vote in favour of the civil nuclear cooperation Bill and even displaying wads of currency notes inside the Lok Sabha. The stand taken by the official spokespersons is that since a JPC had already gone into the allegation of cash-for-votes, there is no need to undertake any further inquiry.

This, again, is untenable. First, the JPC did not have before it the material now provided in the form of the Wikileaks documents and, second, the JPC has stopped short of a conclusive finding in regard to the source(s) of the cash flaunted in the Lok Sabha and recommended only a further inquiry.

Out of the loop

All the persons on the Indian side (Messrs Satish Sarma, Nachiketa Kapur, Kamal Nath) whose names figure in the documents have categorically denied any kind of wrongdoing, and even knowing or meeting the functionaries concerned of the US embassy.

Does it mean that the originators of all those documents are fake or non est, or that if real, they either did not send any such cables as had been leaked, or that they were hallucinating while composing those cables? To arrive at a definitive answer on this also, a full-fledged inquiry becomes necessary.

Finally, this latest bombshell has once again exposed the utterly insulated position of the Prime Minister. He does not seem to be in any kind of loop concerning governance or decision-making. He has said: “I have no knowledge of any such purchases. I have not authorised anyone to purchase any votes. I am not aware of any act of purchasing any votes”.

He is also reported to have remarked that he was “absolutely certain” that he was not involved in “any of these transactions”. Mark his words: It was not just that he was not involved in these transactions; but that he is “absolutely certain” that he was not so involved. This implies that even about his non-involvement, he could not become certain without exploring a contrary possibility! Thank God for that!

Published on March 19, 2011
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