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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 19, April 27, 2013

Bofors Deal, CBI, Coal Blocks Allotment

Sunday 28 April 2013, by Kuldip Nayar

The spat between the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the new tranche of WikiLeaks, alleging former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to have negotiated for the Swedish jet, is understandable when the country is on the brink of general elections. According to the latest bunch of US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks, Rajiv Gandhi may have been a middleman for the Swedish company, Saab-Scania, when it was trying to sell its Viggen fighter aircraft to India in the seventies.

There may be more to it than just the timing of the leaks but, as one would expect, the Congress has reacted accusing the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, of spreading “lies and falsehoods” even as the party dismissed the charges against Rajiv Gandhi as baseless. The BJP, on the other hand, jumped at the first opportunity to mount its attack while deman-ding the government to come out clean on the revelations. Not to be outdone, the Congress too reminded its rival of another cable that spoke of a senior NDA leader demanding money from the CIA for his underground activities.

My point is not whether or not Rajiv Gandhi was a middleman and negotiated the jet deal or whether the NDA leader did seek money from the CIA. In fact, if corruption were the yardstick to judge them, I would find no difference between the Congress and BJP, the two political parties which occupy the largest space in India. Both have been disfigured by too many scams, too many times. Still there is no end to them and their involvements. Both parties live in glass houses and they should not, to use George Bernard Shaw’s words, change clothes with the lights on.

If the Congress had been revisited by the Bofors gun deal payoffs, the BJP had been exposed by the conviction of Bangaru Laxman, who once headed the party, in an arms deal. Yet the Congress and BJP remained deficient in sensitivity. If one rationalised that the case had been “closed”, the other argued that the BJP had not at least put a gloss over the corrupt deal.

The reference was to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who covered the tracts so well that he had left no evidence on the kickbacks, worth Rs 65 crores. Still the fact remained that both parties during their rule had used the government machinery and intelligence agencies to serve their purpose and squeezed out in the process even the last drop of legal or moral decency in the system.

The Bofors gun scandal, indeed, took the cake. It would not have seen the light of the day if it had not been for a deep throat who gave information from within the system without coming out in the open. When the story about the Bofors howitzer deal was broken some 27 years ago, it shook the nation because the deep throat alleged that the commission was given by Bofors, a Swedish firm, to the then Rajiv Gandhi Government to secure the deal.

Two years ago, the deep throat again jolted the nation by revealing his own identity—he is former Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom—and accused Rajiv Gandhi of doing his best to cover up the scam, although he himself did not take bribe. I have no doubt that he was telling the truth. In contrast, see the lies by Rajiv Gandhi who had the innocent hauled over the coals to shield the bribe recipients! Why he did so was obvious. He used the middlemen to channelise the money to the party or the family he wanted to reach. That the middlemen too pocketed a part of the bribe as their commission was under-standable because they took the risk. In any case, Rajiv Gandhi had seen to it that no harm came to them.

I think the biggest casualty in the Bofors scam was the credibility of the investigation agencies, particularly the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Congress may be right that Rajiv Gandhi did not take any bribe. The CBI has no face to say that there cannot be a re-look at the Bofors payoffs because it was the main agency which whitewashed the scandal. This brings me to the cases of coal blocks allot-ment scandal, involving the UPA Government. Reports suggest that top CBI officials were summoned by Union Law Minister Ashwani Kumar who, along with PMO officials, vetted the status report. Apparently, several amend-ments to the report were suggested and some were incorporated before it was filed in the Supreme Court.

The three-judge Bench of the Apex Court has taken notice of the media report and has summoned a top CBI official to clarify through a sworn affidavit whether the status report had been examined by the government. The contro-versial nature of the status report has, indeed, put the CBI in a quandary. But there is no running away from the fact that the CBI is just another department of the Central Government. 

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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