Former IAF chief ACM SP Tyagi’s being perplexed by the Italian Court’s verdict on the payoffs for the Rs 3,500 crore Augusta Westland helicopter (to shunt VIPs around) deal was disingenuous even as TV performance (notwithstanding the uninformed questioning by Rajdeep Sardesai — who should keep to cricket and such other puffery, as he seemed entirely ignorant of how the armed services are run or the background of the subject at hand). Tyagi’s exculpatory case for himself rested on three points. One, that the VVIP helo deal was in the works from Vajpayee’s time with NSA Brajesh Mishra apparently objecting, per Tyagi, to IAF’s role in the selection of this aircraft — an attempt to drag in the BJP antecedents of the deal and muddy the waters so much that the investigation quickly congeals into a sticky political mess, and the “Fratelli Tyagi” are saved. Secondly, that his indictment means the DCAS and other senior air staff at Vayu Bhavan stand indicted too. And thirdly, that the timing of payouts suggests he was long out of office and hence not involved.
The involvement of Mishra and Vajpayee’s BJP regime is an interesting twist but in no way absolves the Tyagi brothers with the ACM in the van of pocketing commissions — some 10.5 million Euros according to court documents– Wow! While the underway CBI investigation may bring out the details, those who served on his staff know of CAS Tyagi’s role in trying to bring the deal to fruition. He won’t be able to get away pleading innocence.
Re: The second reason — it is astonishing for Tyagi to maintain he alone cannot be indicted for a Vayu Bhavan decision. The facts are otherwise, most centrally, that in the extant scheme of things the service chief as both administrative and operational head of an armed service has extraordinary powers of reward and punishment, with all senior postings, including the prized ones as theatre commanders, for instance, being decided by the air chief and only the IAF chief. Officers in posts from previous regimes can be moved around at his will too. So strong is this leverage that the service chief can virtually get the General Staff to do pretty much what he wants. So a DCAS and officers at that level are unlikely not to fall in line with the chief’s wishes on procurement or anything else for that matter. A whole list of pet projects and hardware acquisitions can be sourced to newly installed chiefs over the years. So this doesn’t work for Tyagi.
And the third reason about the payoffs schedule not overlapping with his tenure — he must be daft to believe this exonerates him. There’s such a thing as honour among thieves and foreign vendors are scrupulous in paying out the agreed amounts of bribes especially to helpful service chiefs instrumental in getting deals through. Paying up is bread & butter to them, which they will not shy away from come what may, because future deals depend on the certitude of payoffs and any damage to their reputation on this score has wholly negative financial repercussions for them, and is hence not tolerated. So, if a service chief helped a deal along he’d be paid even if 20 years after the fact. So, this doesn’t support Tyagi’s case either.
But Tyagi’s indictment if confirmed by a CBI investigation will raise still another issue. Can he continue to enjoy his pension and other post-retirement perks after being held criminally responsible of taking a bribe? He will be the first service chief to be caught out. There have to be consequences and to make an example of him the minimum punishment should be his demotion to below “flag rank” — Group Captain, say, or even lower, and the complete withdrawal of pensions and other benefits. GOI/MOD better begin thinking along these lines rather than deciding what to do after CBI lowers the boom on SP Tyagi.