Tour de Scam

BY AJITH PILLAI| IN Archive | 30/04/2016
A Hoot Retrospective from 2013: Tourism in Rome, Milan and Sicily will get a boost as Indian investigators shop for insights into the chopper deal.
AJITH PILLAI suggests some innovative tour packages.


In the Hoot’s 15th anniversary year  we will run selected  articles from its archives, linked to what is making news today.


Tour de Scam, Feb. 21, 2013


Dipped in Witriol

As they say in Sicily, every shady deal has a silver lining. The recent Rs 3,546 crore Agusta Westland VVIP helicopter scam – which has shaken but not stirred the Manmohan Singh government – has come as a boost for the tourism trade in Italy. In fact, a secret note prepared by the Italian Federation of Travel and Tourism Associations after a recent meeting in Rome underlined the need to cash in on ‘visits by members of the Indian press and the CBI’ in the wake of the chopper scandal.

“If marketed well, we can expect a steady flow of giornalista (journalists) as well asagente investigativo (investigators) from India in the weeks and months to come. And all this is thanks to what our friends in Delhi describe as Choppergate or Armsgate,” says the note submitted to the government. It also emphasises the need to showcase Italy in the most impressive manner. “Our guests must have a taste of our best food, wine and culture so that they come back again and again to cover what promises to be a very slow probe. Also, they must have no reason to complain about their stay in our country to Signora Sonia Maino Gandhi, who currently rules India. So the Italian government must urgently act and not waste this opportunity.”

Responding in quick time (like apna own babus), an expert team from Rome worked over the weekend at a five-star resort in Tuscany to come up with a long list of possible tour packages. This was then e-mailed for suggestions and approval to the Press Council of India, I&B Ministry, the CBI and 10 Janpath. Not surprisingly, as it invariably happens with communication marked ‘Confidential’, copies of the Italian proposal were leaked to journalists, particularly those gifted by their editors with roaming facility or those who are fans of the football club, AC Milan.

So, what exactly is on offer that is creating so much buzz among a section of frequent flyer journalists in Delhi? Here is a sampling of the fly-now-pay-later packages suggested:


Tour de Wild Goose: It kicks off in Milan where the case against Finmeccanica – the Italian parent company of the UK-based manufacturers of Westland choppers – is currently on. Once Milan is done with, a whirlwind visit of six Italian cities in eight days follows. To liven up proceedings and to add a new twist, CBI officials on the tour will be made to chase a wild goose (gander option also available) with a frustrating sense of humour which can run and fly faster than any human. The journalists accompanying the sleuths merely follow them around and send back reports, visuals and bytes on the run. A fun-filled trip where the goose always wins, leaving the CBI officials to merely mutter, “Being short of breath, they have nothing to say.” Official drink: Grey Goose Vodka and Corvo Rosso wine.


Picture Perfect Holiday in Italy: This package is for those who like to be seen at the right places and who believe that no news is good news. In Milan a photograph/footage (outside the court complex where the chopper case is on) can say more than a thousand words. Then P2cs at the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) with its majestic buildings will not only be great for viewers back home but can be good to forward to friends and envious foes. Package comes with a free visit to Orbassano near Turin where Sonia Gandhi spent her adolescent years. Also interviews with look-alikes of Giuseppe Orsi the disgraced chairman of Finmeccanica and A K Antonio, an honest Italian who bears a striking resemblance to India’s defence minister. Official caterers: Cracco Restaurant and Slice of Idli – the south Indian eatery in Milan.


For Shoppers Who Can’t Stop: Strictly for CBI officials and reporters who love their shopping/window-shopping. The package includes a guided tour of shopping centres in four Italian cities and unguided visits to malls, a stopover at an armament factory and a special lunch at the Finmeccanica employees’ cafeteria in Rome. Packed into the busy itinerary will be brief visits to the homes of those linked to the scam who have fled the country and exclusive interviews with janitors/gardeners who say those absconding left without a forwarding address. Free gifts at the end of the trip include a bottle of Orsi’s favourite wine, a designer copy of Wasteland, T S Eliot’s famous poem re-titled as Westland, a brochure of guns available in Italy and a toy model of a VVIP helicopter. Official sponsors: Finmeccanica.


See Now, Scam Later: This is for the genuine tourist inside any journalist. There is much to be seen in Italy and, as travel writers often say: ‘If Rome was not built in a day, you can’t possibly see it in 24 hours’. So, forget the scam and scamper around the city like Romans do and make a wish for better salaries at the Trevi Fountain. After a few days in the capital, head to Florence to soak in all the art and to be seen in places where tourists come and go and talk of Michelangelo and not of middlemen. Then off you go to the Alapuzha of the West – Venice – to hire a gondola and drift into a dream. Incidentally, Indian defence minister A K Antony’s home town Cherthala is just 15 km outside Alapuzha. Finally, no visit is complete without a day in Sicily where you can ask people if they have heard of Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan.

But what about reporting on the chopper scam? Well, we have factored that in – you get to spend the last few days in Milan and will be provided English translations of reports in Italian papers. Also, dinner meetings will be arranged with local journalists who will share papers. An exclusive a day guaranteed. Official sponsor: Anonymous.    


Back To Square One: In this package you see Italy, dine and wine (or whine that you miss aloo parathas) at the best restaurants, shop and have a jolly good time. The 10-day holiday over, you are on the flight back to Delhi, nursing the hangover of the visit. But on arrival you are back in action when you are whisked from the airport to Tihar Jail to meet Abhishek Verma, the real man behind the chopper scam. By the end of it all, you may perhaps be left wondering why you went to Italy in the first place. Well, we cannot offer a Tihar package without flying you first to Milan. Sponsors: Alitalia.


 Ajith Pillai is author of "Off the Record:Untold Stories from a Reporter's Diary". He used to write a satirical column for the Hoot.


The Hoot is the only not-for-profit initiative in India which does independent media monitoring.
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