Tax records in Spain and Italy document the sudden increase in the wealth of three families, the Valdemoros, the Vincis and the Mainos. Sadly, both Walter Vinci and Jose Valdemoro decided that they needed new wives more in sync with their rise in status, and freed themselves from dear Nadia and Annouschka, sisters of Sonia Maino, the Hope of India's Millions.
Today, all three reside happily in the cramped 12,000 square feet living quarters provided for them by the Government of India. In view of the family's services in bringing to India oil pipelines, fertiliser factories and other goodies via dear, dear Maria and Ottavio, Sonia and her relatives enjoy cars, telephones and other services paid for by the affluent country that they have made their own. Uncle Atal has wisely decided not to inform the Indian taxpayers just how much is being spent on the Mainos by the taxpayer. After all, a clamour may go up that the money spent is insufficient!
How lucky that Uncle Atal -- so dear a friend of Uncle Gopi and Uncle Shri back home in London -- is around. He has ensured that Gopi Arora, who knows more about Bofors than any other living being, has not been disturbed by chargesheets or enquiries. And unless Arora is made to turn approver, by tempting him with the prospect of a year as a State guest, there is zero chance that actual convictions will ensue in the Bofors case.
After spreading canards that President Narayanan was ''shielding'' the guilty in the gun deal by ''refusing'' sanction to prosecute, it transpires that it is Uncle Atal who is shielding Gopi Arora from confessing. Who cares that these flawed and inadequate chargesheets will not hold water in court?
However, just as a Swedish radio station broke the veil on Bofors, who knows what other accidents may not take place to disrupt the plans to ensure that the guilty of Bofors escape? Armaments deals are a source of several political, bureaucratic and (now) service fortunes, and none of these worthies would like to see a precedent get set of accountability. As General Malik's purchase-filled sojourn in South Africa demonstrates, deals of the Bofors genre are getting done every week at a defence headquarters cleared of those who ask inconvenient questions.
The example of Admiral Bhagwat is there to scare away any officer from making enquiries into the quality of the equipment ordered from dubious foreign and domestic sources. So long as George Fernandes does not make the process of selection transparent and professional, a few bigwigs will be able to rig the orders, just as they have been doing for decades. As an admirer of George -- who follows his convictions with courage even if most of them are wrong! -- this columnist is disappointed at the defence minister's reluctance to make the changes in the functioning of his ministry that are essential for the future. Hopefully this 'Don't rock the boat' attitude will get replaced by traditional Fernandes activism.
A dear friend of many VVIPs in Delhi -- Mian Nawaz Sharief -- is now in ''protective custody'' in Pakistan. There is no need for worthies on this side of the border to worry that details of the many sweetheart deals entered into between Mian Saheb and his friends in India will get exposed by the Pakistan army.
Bill Clinton will ensure that the generals in Pakistan obey his order to avoid embarrassing friends of his in both Islamabad and New Delhi with revelations of the sugar and other deals. There have been rumours swirling around that Mian Saheb financed at least two political leaders in India during the 1998 election, calculating that they would return to power.
As with other Sharief hypotheses, neither of the two got Cabinet posts after the election, thanks to the 1998 arithmetic differing from 1996. If Pervez Musharraf were to reveal details of such transactions, he would be doing a service to the subcontinent. However, as the general is as tightly controlled by Washington as he himself controls the Taliban, such transparency is unlikely.
Uncle Atal's handpicked foreign policy team -- closet Nehruvians to a man -- are feeling queasy at the collapse of the pretence that their skills have led to the United States accepting India's position, while in fact what has happened is that they have made New Delhi a US satellite in matters of foreign policy. After all the compromises, Washington continues to strain at the leash in its eagerness to shower Pakistan with armaments. New Delhi is being told for the four hundredth time -- to chop off its arm so as to strengthen Pakistan to make fresh attacks.
It is American arms and assistance that emboldened Islamabad to be so intransigent against the world's largest democracy, a fact that the Clinton administration does not want to acknowledge, met as they are by fawning Indian interlocuters eager to genuflect. Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh -- for example -- is in a tizzy of delight at being favoured with talks by Strobe Talbott, a junior official. Would Hubert Vedrine of France, Robin Cook of Britain or Joscka Fisher of Germany tolerate a series of meetings with anyone other than their US counterpart, Madeleine Albright, herself?
It takes a slave's mind and vision to actually feel honoured that a junior officer is deigning to meet with the external affairs minister of the world's largest democracy, or that Karl Inderfurth (who has the status of a joint secretary) spent time with India's Principal Secretary to the PM-cum-National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, who went scurrying off to the US just after the poll.
Every now and then there are howls from Secular Fundamentalists about the ''vice-like grip'' of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the Vajpayee government. The unrestrained ability of the Brajesh-Jaswant duo to replace a Union of Soviet Socialist Republic-satellite foreign policy with a US-satellite one indicates that the RSS has less influence over Vajpayee than even his domestic staff.
Under this team, India has effectively conceded Pakistan occupied Kashmir to Pakistan (sans any concession in return), secretly slowed down its missile and nuclear weapons programme, instituted a policy of confining a riposte to Pakistani adventurism to the Line of Control rather than meeting it all along the border with that rogue state, and concentrating 90 per cent of the ministry of external affairs's attention on ways of coddling the most anti-Indian US president since Richard Nixon, a man moreover who is a lame duck in his own country, unable to get his way on major issues.
It is nauseating to watch the Vajpayee team beg Clinton to visit India, often on television, as Jaswant Singh so frequently does, talking of the ''president's visit'' without any qualifying words indicating that he means the head of another country, not his own. For the pleasure of watching Bubba gorge himself on tandoori cooking, it would be interesting to note the concessions that the Mishra-Jaswant duo have agreed to, especially on security-related issues.
Clinton's fondness for the jehadis has once again become clear from his support to Chechen insurgents in Russia. Washington wants the territory to become free, East Timor style, to encourage friends such as the Musharrafs. This is why it is so anxious to halt the Russian army from finishing off the illegal Chechen state.
In India, Bill Clinton has ensured that his diplomats in Delhi routinely encourage agents of Islamabad such as the Hurriyat Conference in their task of vivisecting India. The Hurriyat few are always given a sympathetic hearing by the Clinton team, whether in Srinagar, Delhi or Washington.
Today, the cacophony of voices in the White House demanding more pressure on India to destroy itself to satiate the bloodlust of the generals is becoming deafening, and is getting reflected in the fact that Pakistan continues to get World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans while Indian requests are being blocked. Clinton's attempt at derailing the Indian economy and sabotaging its defenses are being met by further begging by New Delhi for Bubba to visit India and kick it around some more.