A CBI court on Friday convicted former Samta Party President Jaya Jaitly and two other people in an alleged 2001 corruption case relating to a defence deal.
CBI judge Virendra Bhat convicted Jaitly, and two others – party colleague Gopal Pacherwal and retired Major General SP Murgai.
The case was registered on the basis of a sting, ‘Operation West End,’ conducted by news portal tehelka.com in 2000, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, purportedly exposing alleged corruption in defence deals. The CBI submitted a charge sheet against Jaitly and others in 2006, Hindustan Times reported..
The judge convicted the three --- Jaitly, Murgai and Pacherwal, for criminal conspiracy along with relevant sections of Prevention of Corruption Act (PC Act).
Interestingly, two other people – former Defence Minister George Fernandes and former BJP President Bangaru Laxman – were also named in ‘Operation West End’. While Bangrau Laxman died in 2014, George Fernandes died last year.
In the sting operation, Tehelka journalist Matthew Samuel was seen offering money to Bangaru Laxman, which the latter accepted.
Matthew Samuel for his part said Bangaru Laxman’s arrest in 2012 after he was found guilty of criminal conspiracy. In an interview with Outlook, he said, “Bangaru’s conviction and imprisonment left me with mixed feelings though. I did feel vindicated at one level, this being the season of defence scams and scandals. But I was also disturbed by the question of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) fast-tracking the case against the BJP’s Dalit icon and not against equally or even more influential people like Jaya Jaitly, R.K. Gupta, R.K. Jain and others.”
Interestingly, during this time, Bangaru Laxman had one supporter, current President of India Ram Nath Kovind. According to a report in The Wire, quoting the CBI Court, “Kovind deposed that he knows Bangaru Laxman for last 20 years. He deposed that Bangaru Laxman is a straight forward, simple and honest person, who became President of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP.”
Even former Outlook editor Vinod Mehta was sympathetic towards Laxman, compared to his views on Jaitly and others. This writer remembers him talking on NDTV where he said, “Bangaru Laxman was screwed.”
Jaitly and Fernandes’ role
As Matthew Samuel said, Jaitly also was seen accepting the tapes, but soon after the sting was shown to the country, she disappeared only to come on news channels a few days later, saying that she had been framed and would not resign. Jaitly eventually stepped down, which was followed by George Fernandes (who was replaced by Jaswant Singh) and a numbe of other senior BJP leaders.
Fernandes, who was named in the scandal, was subsequently cleared by the one man commission headed by retired Justice Phukan. The Phukan Committee Report was rejected by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government headed by the Congress Party and a new committee headed by Justice K Venkataswami was appointed. The Committee investigated the case in detail, but Justice Venkataswami resigned before submitting the report in the case.
The sting operation was the biggest scandal to hit mainstream media after the 1999 allegations of match fixing that named former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje. One can only wonder how a sting would turn out in 2020.