There was a time when people said ‘if it’s not in The Times, it hasn’t happened’. That simple sentence was a great tribute to the British paper. Today many say if it’s not mentioned by the media, it’s probably just a rumour. Yet, there are several stories the media simply doesn’t cover. This morning, I want to tell you about one such story concerning a foreign prime minister, India and some very embarrassing revelations. For reasons I cannot fathom, it’s been ignored by most of the media in India.
The Prime Minister of Nepal does a weekly interview with a local channel, Kantipur television. Earlier this month, he revealed that in the 1970s, he had been involved in counterfeiting Indian currency. It happened in Bihar, where he was staying, at the home of a certain Devendra Pratap Singh, a former vice-chancellor of Bhagalpur University. G. P. Koirala said he had hired experts from Forbesganj to produce the currency, and tested the notes by depositing them in a bank. “A few days later the money was withdrawn without the bank detecting it,” Koirala added.
So what does this amount to? First, the Nepalese PM has confessed to a serious crime. Second, he duped an Indian bank, and presumably, its innocent customers. Third, supposedly respectable Indians such as D. P. Singh were aware of and perhaps condoned what he did.
But wait, there’s more. In the same interview, Prime Minister Koirala also revealed that in 1973, he hijacked a Nepal Airlines plane after R N Kao, then head of RAW, gave the green signal with a promise no action would be taken against him. Now, I’m told the hijack is an old story and in the ’90s Koirala was ‘exonerated’ — but what about Kao’s role? No one had heard of it before. If true, it suggests that the head of RAW was complicit in a serious crime. Worse, it implies the Indian government and state were involved.
The revelations went further. The Nepalese Prime Minister also said that whilst in India, a certain Mr. Sharma from Bombay attempted to entice him into a clandestine uranium business worth millions. Sharma gave him a packet of uranium, and claimed to have sackfuls more. Koirala added that he had the contents tested at Benaras Hindu University which confirmed it was genuine. He considered selling it to Israel but was advised not to do so, and consequently took Sharma’s offer no further.
The implications of this third revelation are potentially the most disturbing of all. They suggest a clandestine market in illicit uranium operated in India. Worse, the stuff could be tested at public places without anyone ringing alarm bells. At a time when India is negotiating safeguards with the IAEA — and the wider nuclear deal is opposed by the international non-proliferation lobby — this could be damaging. At the very least, it will embarrass the Government.
Finally, there’s the impact on Indo-Nepal relations. Even if you argue Koirala, at 83 and unwell, should not be taken seriously, he still remains the Prime Minister of Nepal. How do you treat him hereafter?
All of this should have hit journalists squarely between the eyes. Instead, the press virtually ignored it. Only one newspaper picked it up — after sitting on it for a few days — and a news channel pursued it for a few hours thereafter. But neither made anything of it. Everyone else behaved as if nothing unusual had been said.
For the life of me, I cannot understand or explain this. After all, how often do prime ministers admit to horrific crimes? How often do they provide proof of Indian complicity at the highest or the most worrying level? And all of this has happened when, because of the nuclear deal, India is most vulnerable.
So the next time a newspaper claims ‘We publish all the news that’s fit to print’ I shall respond: thanks but can I have the stories you throw into your rubbish bin? They could be more important.