In her memoir, Jaya Jaitly reveals how middlemen tried to draw her into defence deals

The former Samata Party president claims that an agent named Christian Michel offered her the opportunity to make a ‘huge pile of money’.

All the accusations made by Mrs [Niloufer] Bhagwat became the checklist of allegations Tehelka built into their elaborately planned sting called Operation West End, aimed at bringing George Fernandes and the NDA government down. In that, Tehelka finds a character who supposedly tells them all about corruption in defence matters because he lives near the naval barracks in Bombay. The purchase of missiles or ships, and the Barak deal issue dragged in APJ Abdul Kalam and George Fernandes.

They made any unsuspecting character a defence dealer crawling out of nowhere, one of whom was supposed to have claimed that I got two per cent on each file that was signed, or that I was the “suitcase” woman of the defence minister. All the usual innuendoes of me being a second wife, companion, live-in partner, and co-conspirator in corruption were seeds planted in Tehelka’s flowerpot by the verbal onslaught Mrs Bhagwat had let loose. As usual, it was cherchez la femme, the very French, very sexist expression that indicates a woman is the indispensable ingredient that leads to every great man’s achievements or downfall.

To be fair, however, there was an added non-sexist dimension here. When Mulayam Singh Yadav was defence minister, Amar Singh was his party’s general secretary. It was widely rumoured, with no evidence to prove it, that he was the go-to man to “facilitate” decisions. Delhi abounds with such defamatory allegations to which I no longer pay attention. Theirs was not a party ever short of money as was the Samata Party which could often not pay its monthly telephone bills of four thousand rupees at the Party office.

People cannot be faulted for automatically presuming the next incumbent and the general secretary followed the same alleged system. Rajeev Shukla, now cricket honcho and Congress party loyalist, was then an independent member of the Rajya Sabha, hoping to be made a junior minister in the NDA. Anyone wanting such things arrived at the Fernandes house to lobby. If he was busy, they found me. One day, he struck a conversation with me starting like this:

“Jayaji, you and George are among the most popular and in-demand people in Delhi to meet.”

“Why so?” I asked.

“Do you know that people are willing to pay twenty lakh rupees to have a cup of tea with you?”

“Good god, whatever for?”

“Well, if they want to show they are close to the person who is close to the minister, it gives them an advantage outside among defence commission agents. They will show they have spent half an hour in this house having tea with you. It cuts the competition. Even if you don’t help them, it helps them,” Rajeev very kindly explained. The whole procedure seemed an elaborate sham enacted between aspiring defence dealers.

That is how I heard about this sordid world of defence deals and commissions and realised Delhi was teeming with people who turn into serpents and scorpions at the sound of money.

Having been uncomprehending of the world of business, negotiations, percentages and murkiness, I blanked out and remained oblivious to such things, not bothering to engage my mind with such unpleasant talk. I soon realised that many defunct old socialists, Party workers, perfumed ladies in chiffons, young smart alecks and an assorted range of people kept asking for time to meet me. I politely met the political characters I knew but froze when the topic of their conversation veered towards some “file” that had been cleared but “just needed George Sahib’s signature”. This is it, I thought. Even offering tea had become dangerous. Not a single person’s request was either forwarded to or mentioned to George Fernandes at any time. Anyone in the Ministry would swear to that.

In fact, they did, when officers were later asked formally in the Inquiry Commission and court, they confirmed I had never made any request or engaged with the Ministry at any time. Occasionally, if I happened to meet George sahib, I would mention the names of colleagues who seemed to be turning into sharks circling the premises hoping to make money from “a cup of tea”. He would growl and avoid them like the plague. This created a batch of disgruntled “friends”. The real dealers or commission agents as they are called in polite circles, were well hidden, I presumed.

I must correct myself. One did emerge.

Soon after the Pokhran nuclear missile test, India was in the doghouse among certain countries. George Fernandes started wooing Japan through his old socialist friends there. While counting friends there were many discussions on who would reach out to India-friendly groups in the US Congress and Senate. I received a call from a foreigner who gave his name as Christian Michel. He said he wanted to meet the minister to assist in ways to lobby with these groups in the US. He gave Naresh Chandra, then the India’s Ambassador in the US, as a reference to his credentials. I said I would pass the message on.

George Fernandes rang Naresh Chandra in Washington DC. He sounded slightly uncertain but did affirm that he knew him. Presuming it was a strictly diplomatic strategy to be discussed, George Fernandes decided to make me the sounding board till he could figure out what was going on. I agreed to meet Michel and he suggested the IIC lounge as the meeting venue.

When I met him, he had a badge saying “Press”, and a magazine on some advanced aircraft stuff – Dassault, I think – on the coffee table. He patted both and said, “This is for cover.”

Eek, I thought to myself, what is this cloak-and-dagger operation? “Cover?” I ventured, curiously.
 He came out with a long tale on how he had been an informant for years, and claimed to have helped Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao keep tabs on Sonia Gandhi whenever she visited London. He opened up one of those electronic diaries that fancy people had those days, to show me times, dates, places and people he had met in London. He may have been fabricating all this in trying to establish his credibility. I was disinterested in this information and didn’t utter a word. I was trying to see what he was getting at.

Michel then tried to educate me on all the real defence dealers who operated in India and the bureaucrats they had in their pockets. He mentioned the Choudhury brothers and a former Admiral. (I had never heard of them at that time but their names cropped up in conversations later in the Tehelka tapes. Significantly, Tehelka never went to their homes or offices because its stories consisted of sham dealers, agents, companies and officers. But I get ahead and need to rewind.) 
Michel then blatantly offered me the opportunity to make a huge pile of money for the party. I guessed it was positioned as a quid pro quo for some favour to Dassault.

I said, “We do not do such things.”
“How will you run your Party?” he asked, slightly condescendingly.
 I got a little riled at that. “I would rather beg in the streets,” I replied. I kept my cool in front of so many people in the IIC lounge but beat a hasty retreat, reporting the entire story to George Fernandes the same evening. He told me to write it out in a letter in full detail and send it to the Defence Secretary. I did so the next day. Neither did I get any acknowledgement nor am I aware if any action followed. George Fernandes had too much on his plate to keep any of this in his mind as the Kargil War soon followed.

Michel managed to get my home number after that and called half a dozen times to revive the conversation, but I refused to meet him or discuss anything.

When the Tehelka allegations struck in mid-March 2001, with all its immediate repercussions, I received a fax from Michel, saying: “Dear Mrs Jaitly, I am so sorry about what has happened. I warned you about them. Sincerely, Michel.” The fax remained in my files for a long time, till it faded, as fax papers did then.

The next time the name Michel appeared it was in the AgustaWestland helicopter deal in which the Congress was accused of shady dealings. Christian Michel and Guido Haschke were the middlemen named by the court in Milan. Was this the son, or the same man? I have no idea, nor do I want to know.

Excerpted with permission from Life Among The Scorpions: Memoirs of a Woman in Indian Politics, Jaya Jaitly, Rupa Publications.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.