Choppers hit the headlines as much as they hit the skies during Indian elections. From the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to Meghalaya’s chief minister Mukul Sangma, questions over extravagance in using choppers are in the news. While Modi is criticised by Arvind Kejriwal for using choppers ‘funded’ by the country’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, the Meghalaya chief minister is in a soup for ‘violating’ the model code of conduct by using a public transport helicopter. The state government has made all out effort to save Sangma’s skin by saying the Pawan Hans helicopter was de-hired by the Meghalaya Transport Corporation (MTC) and then hired by the state Congress. For Pawan Hans, of course, it makes a business sense to rent out the chopper for Rs 50 lakh for a couple of days. But the question arises as to why the public transport vehicle was de-hired by the MTC. It seems there was an instruction from a ‘competent authority’, but no one in the government wants to come clear on the particular office from where the order came from. This clearly means there was a case of favouritism.
It was the National People’s Party (NPP) led by the chief minister’s arch rival Purno Sangma, who lodged a complaint about misuse of the chopper that ferries passengers on Shillong-Guwahati-Tura route regularly. The government and the Pawan Hans took two days to reply to the allegation. Interestingly, everyone connected to the issue washed off their hands. The Returning Officer of Tura said Pawan Hans applied for de-hiring of the chopper following it was sought by the Meghalaya Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). The Pawan Hans corroborated with the version adding that it would not charge the government any rent for those days when the chopper was de-hired. Compulsions of the company to provide the chopper for election campaign of a ruling party can be understood. Acceding to the government (or Congress) wish is more important for the company in view of the fact that its services were banned for a period after the tragic mishap in Arunachal Pradesh that claimed the five lives including then chief minister Dorjee Khandu in 2011.
Election is a good time for bureaucrats to prove their acumen in running the country. But, most of them being yes-men of their political masters cannot come out of their mindset even after announcement of the election when the model code comes into force. Had they been so, we would have seen a lot of “cleaning” of politics in this small period.
(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on April 5)