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February 14, 2001
The Hindujas Again!
Whether the Hinduja brothers were actually involved in the Bofors gun deal or not, time alone will tell. And, of course, the courts of law. I have no intention of venturing an opinion on the case since it is before the judiciary right now and they are capable of taking an informed, independent decision on it.
But the interesting thing to observe here is not whether the Hindujas are guilty or not. It is how everyone else seems particularly interested in proving that they are, even if it means bringing into the picture issues that are in no way connected with the Bofors case.
The matter of their British citizenship has suddenly acquired a huge dimension. As has their funding of the faith zone in the Millennium Dome in London. Their scholarships for Indian students going to Cambridge University and the Vedic research centre they have opened in Columbia are also under a cloud. The British media has now started raising questions about those who have even broken bread with them!
In fact, anything and everything that the brothers are involved in, as indeed anyone or everyone they may have met or associated with, is now coming under serious scrutiny almost as if there is a desperate anxiety to find something to nail them with. If there is no crime, let us find one: That appears to be the unstated motto of the British press. In fact, if you cannot find one, let us quickly create one. That seems more like it.
Now, business people play this game all the time. So do politicians. Therefore, this is not particularly surprising. But the extent to which the media is being used this time is so overwhelming, so obvious that even those who are not particularly interested in what happens to the Hinduja brothers are taken aback by the sheer viciousness of the campaign.
The needle of suspicion may point clearly in their direction in the Bofors case but surely you cannot hang them till the courts are convinced that the evidence is strong enough for a conviction. It is not enough to keep calling them guilty, badnaming them and opening up new issues every few days. You have to prove that they actually took kickbacks from Bofors. That is the real issue and it makes sense to stick to that instead of opening up completely irrelevant arguments over whether or not they used their influence to get Keith Vaz a junior ministership in the British cabinet.
In fact, I will go one step further and argue that if an Indian business family uses its influence to get a person of Indian origin included in the British cabinet, what is so wrong with that? We should be proud of that influence. After all, we spend millions of dollars to create lobbies in other countries. If an Indian family in the UK can actually get a person of Indian origin installed in a position of power, surely that is good for India, good for all of us.
Similarly, if an Indian family, an avowedly Hindu family to be precise, is able to create a space for Hinduism in the faith zone of the Millennium Dome, what crime have they committed? The charge is that the Hinduja brothers gave a million pound donation to the faith zone in the hope that two of them would get British citizenship in return. Is this such a terrible felony? In most nations of the world, you would get instant citizenship for investing half that amount in a local business. Here, it was a donation. A donation to a decent if not worthwhile cause.
I do not also understand why Peter Mandelson had to resign his job. Is it a crime to recommend a case for citizenship if you think it is genuine and worth supporting? Do we not make such recommendations all the time? For a ration card. For a government job. For an admission to school or college. For membership to a club. Do we always check out whether the person we are recommending has some case or the other against them? Here, in fact, there was no case, no conviction. Just an ongoing investigation. So what is this huge hullabaloo all about?
Methinks the game is more complex than that. There are many business houses in India and the UK who resent and envy the growth of the Hindujas from a mere trading house into a huge corporate entity that could one day challenge their future pickings. Their bid for the prestigious Express newspaper group further aggravated the fears. So they want to quickly badname them, run them out of business.
I also think there are many political interests who will benefit from the hammering of the Hindujas. In the UK, they have already very successfully put Tony Blair on the mat. In India, they are using this as an excuse to corner the prime minister, by spreading the canard that the isolation of the Hinduja brothers will hurt him the most. Sonia Gandhi is the other obvious target.
My point is simple. Let the Hinduja brothers be investigated by the toughest agencies in the land. Let Bofors not be compromised. Let the courts look at the facts that emerge and then pass the strongest conviction possible on the basis of these facts. If they are guilty of the slightest crime, let us lock them up and throw away the key. But till this happens, let us treat them as we would treat all citizens of this great country. As free, honourable men. Let us stop harrassing them, badnaming them again and again on various, specious issues. A witch hunt is actually no substitute for hard facts.
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