In India, authorities will investigate new allegations of corruption after the head of the army said he was offered a bribe by a defense equipment lobbyist. Meanwhile, an activist is trying to revive an anti-graft movement which received a huge outpouring of support last year.
Parliament erupted in furor because of the allegations by army chief V.K. Singh that he was offered a bribe to clear the purchase of 600 substandard vehicles. Defense Minister A.K. Antony quickly ordered a probe. “It’s a serious allegation,” he stated.
General Singh told the Hindu newspaper that a man had what he described as the “gumption" to walk up to the general and tell him he would be paid about $2.8 million, if he approved the contract. Singh did not name the lobbyist, but says the man had recently retired from the armed forces. Singh says the lobbyist claimed that people had taken money from him before.
The army chief told a television interviewer that he had reported the offer to the defense minister, who was stunned. He said both he and the minister have tried to ensure transparency in defense procurement.
But General Singh says it will take more drastic surgery to eliminate what has spread like a cancer through the Indian system.
Singh said the army already has 7,000 of the vehicles in question, which he says were purchased over the years at an exorbitant price.
Some observers questioned the timing of the army chief’s revelation. General Singh was recently involved in a spat with the government about his retirement age.
The latest allegations will further dent the image of a government which is struggling to quell public anger about a series of bribery scandals. Fury caused by alleged kickbacks involving billions of dollars fueled huge public protests led by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare seven months ago.
Hazare is demanding the creation of an independent anti-corruption agency that would be known as Lokpal.
But Hazare’s anti-corruption movement appeared to run out of steam in December, when his hunger strike because of the government’s failure to establish a Lokpal drew hardly any crowds.
Hazare is now attempting to revive the movement. On Sunday, he staged another protest in New Delhi, saying he is ready "to fight again.” He says the government must enact a law to establish the anti-corruption agency by 2014, or face defeat in general elections.
Hazare says he wants the law for the sake of the nation and the public.
The government has drafted a Lokpal bill, but it has failed to win support from opposition parties and Hazare calls it toothless.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met leaders of political parties last week and said that he is committed to finding a consensus on the anti-corruption bill.