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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 10, February 23, 2013

Scandalous

Tuesday 26 February 2013, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

The Bofors kickback scandal is fast assuming the dimension of a serious crisis for the Rajiv Government. For this, the Prime Minister has to a large measure hold himself and the bunch of cronies and hangers-on—whom he has been keeping under his tattered wings—responsible.

The latest to bring discredit for him is the dishonourable conduct of the Joint Parlia-mentary Committee (JPC) which was set up to investigate into the identity of those who got the bribe money of over Rs 60 crores—as officially given out by the Swedish Government’s Audit Bureau report—but reduced itself to a white-washing outfit seeking to cover up all the traces of the bribe-takers’ trail. The report, as presented to Parliament on April 26, brings out very clearly that its exclusive concern was to protect Rajiv Gandhi and his company rather than identify the culprit. It even fought shy of calling in some of the key witnesses, while going into a diversionary move to demonstrate that the Bofors was the best gun available. While one has the legitimate right to question the JPC’s technical competence to judge the quality of any gun, the point to note is that nobody has seriously questioned the quality of the Bofors gun but that does not lead to the conclusion that no kickback was involved in negotiating its purchase. The entire JPC exercise has been scan-dalous and its honourable members owe it to the public to explain how they permitted them-selves to be a party to a deception bringing into disrepute the parliamentary institution itself.

The fact that a newspaper of the standing of The Hindu with an impeccable record of integrity has brought to light a series of damaging documents about the scandal—documents which the JPC preferred not to go into—has been the biggest indictment of our government calculatedly dragging its feet in locating the culprit, depending on the manipulations by a gang of dishonest officers for whom the protection of the interest of individuals highly placed has become more important than the interest of the nation.

With all the hectic goings-on in the Prime Minister’s establishment to avert any direct exposure of this kickback scandal, what appears to be worrying it is that the public hearings of the Bofors misdeeds are due in Stockholm next month, which might bring out further incrimi-nating material directly identifying the ultimate recipients of the kickback money. The days of worry are, therefore, yet to come for the government.

A theory trotted out by some of the leading lights in the sycophants’ circle round the Prime Minister is that all these talks of kickbacks and defence deal scandals excite only the uppper-set critics of the government and do not touch the masses. This amounts to wishful-thinking which may turn out to be dangerous for Rajiv Gandhi. The impression that the Prime Minister’s close-circuit buddies are involved in wheeling and dealing has already spread all over the country—an impression which can hardly be effaced by the indecent command performance of the JPC, and is bound to be strengthened by the very convincing exposure by The Hindu, among others.

The Congress-I members of Parliament may feel secure with their comfortable majority in the House and are displaying their abject loyalty to their leader by producing the bizarre document passed off as the report of the JPC. They need, however, to realise that they had won the poll victory under extraordinary circumstances following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, and this does not provide them to play with it with impunity. Rather such conduct would, in the long run, erode the credibility of the parliamentary system in the eyes of the public.

It needs also to be emphasised that the unworthy conduct of the Rajiv Government in trying to hold back the exposure of the culprit in the kickback scandal, is putting a severe strain on the loyalty of the civil servants. Any intelligent observer would know that the government’s credibility in the eyes of the vast army of its own administration staff is fast going down with the type of bogus alibis being put up by it to protect the guilty in the defence deals. A government with the loyalty of its own civil service shaken can by no means claim to be stable and durable.

The Prime Minister has to take all these points into account when handling the hideous scandal of kickbacks in the coming months which promise to be stormy for him and his government.

(Mainstream, April 27, 1988)

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