Former Goa Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo (photo: PIB)
Goa Governor Bharat Vir Wanchoo resigned from his post on Friday, barely hours after being questioned as a witness in the ongoing CBI investigation into the AgustaWestland bribery case.
The Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer has been accused of paying bribes to ensure its AW101 helicopters were selected by the Indian government for ferrying the President, Prime Minister and other VVIPs. The Rs. 36 billion ($600 million) contract was signed in 2010.
But following the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, the CEO of Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland's parent company, by Italian authorities in February 2013, the Indian government had terminated the contract.
Wanchoo, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, was earlier the head of the elite Special Protection Group (SPG).
The CBI believes that Wanchoo was part of meetings that led to the height ceiling requirement for the VVIP choppers to be reduced in the procurement process, enabling AgustaWestland to enter the bidding picture. The AW101 choppers had reportedly not met the original specifications in the tender.
Wanchoo, appointed as Goa governor in 2012, still had three years left in his 5-year term. A governor is appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Cabinet and is a largely ceremonial role, though it becomes crucial if a state election throws up a hung assembly.
Wanchoo is the fifth governor to have resigned since the Modi administration was sworn in in May. The new administration had made it known that governors appointed by the previous UPA administration should resign gracefully to allow the NDA to appoint governors of its own choice.
Since that controversy broke, five bureaucrat-turned-governors appointed by the UPA have resigned, including M K Narayanan (West Bengal), Ashwini Kumar (Nagaland), B L Joshi (UP) and Shekhar Dutt (Chhattisgarh). Two other governors have completed their tenure: H R Bhardwaj (Karnataka) and Devanand Konwar (Tripura).
This allows the Centre to appoint seven new governors as early as this weekend. There is considerable political pressure within the NDA as several aging senior BJP leaders have to be accommodated as governors, given that the administration has kept an unofficial limit of 75 years for becoming a cabinet minister.
As for the UPA-appointed politicians – such as Kerala Governor Sheila Dikshit and Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil, who have resisted the pressure to resign – they are likely to be transferred to less politically important states in the North-East.
The resignation of Wanchoo is the latest signal that the Modi administration is likely to have it way in starting its tenure with a clean slate. With a strong and stable majority in the Lok Sabha and no troublesome coalition allies to deal with, all eyes are now on its maiden Budget expected on July 10.