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The Rediff Special / Aladi Aruna

Rajiv Gandhi favoured Bofors, says ex-JPC member

Aladi Aruna Aladi Aruna, law minister in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam government in Tamil Nadu, is suddenly in the limelight now. He was one of the members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee constituted by the Rajiv Gandhi government to investigate the Bofors case. B Shankaranand was the JPC chairman. With the Opposition boycotting the JPC, only those from the ruling Congress and its allies remained on the committee. Aladi, then in the All-India Anna Dravida Kazhagam, an ally of the Congress, was also on the panel.

However, instead of the smooth ride expected by the the ruling party members, trouble began when Aruna voiced his protests at the manner of the enquiry. When the JPC report came out, his lone dissenting voice caused a national sensation. He had submitted a list of people to be questioned in the case. And amazingly, after 10 years, the case is following the direction he had then wanted.

Aladi spoke with Shobha Warrier on his association with the JPC. Excerpts from the conversation:

What exactly happened at the JPC meetings?

Unfortunately, at that time, all the political parties belonging to the Opposition boycotted the JPC thinking that little good would come of the proceedings. I was a member of the AIADMK then, which was allied to the Congress, and I was the only one from an allied political party. In spite of the alliance, I was very keen to find out and unearth the truth. I wanted to identify the real culprits, that is, the recipients of the funds.

Did you get a feeling that they were trying to suppress certain facts?

Certainly. Right from the beginning, they were trying to build a cover-up story. They did not follow the proceedings properly, they did not supply the documents to the members, they did not allow the members to keep the documents long enough so they could read everything well. They insisted that those were all secret documents and would not allow the members to take them home.

We were asked to reach there early and go through the documents to gather information. You see, they were all very voluminous documents. It is not possible to go through all that within one or two hours. We wanted much more time, but it was not given.

Another thing is, regarding the witnesses also, we gave a list. But that was not accepted by the chairman, Shankaranand.

The list was based on...

Relating to the Bofors contract. For example, I gave a list in which I had mentioned that the Hindujas should be called before the committee. Similarly, they were selective about other witnesses too. In this aspect also, they adopted a partisan attitude. There was no fairness in holding the meetings and questioning the witnesses.

Didn't you protest then?

Yes, every time. But I was alone. I was not able to wield my sword very effectively. But I did my best.

Were you then dissatisfied with the whole proceedings?

Yes, of course. I have mentioned that in my dissent note which consisted of 20 pages. No dissent note in our history contained so many pages. I had dealt with everything right from the beginning. Fairly and fearlessly. I have mentioned about their attitude, intention and also the propensity of the chairman, how they manipulated everything to make it a cover-up.

When did you decide to come out with the dissent note? How long did you have to think about it?

Aladi Aruna Right from the beginning, I suspected (the intention of the probe). My suspicion was strengthened subsequently. I said that Win Chadha should be called for, the president and vice-president of the Bofors company should be called for, and under my heavy pressure alone they agreed to (call them).

Shankaranand wrote to the president and vice-president of Bofors to appear before the committee, but he did not disclose that to us. One morning he told us that they had come to give evidence but would return the very next day. That means we were to meet them that evening itself. How were we to collect all the necessary materials in such a short period to cross examine them? They didn't give us enough time for preparation.

The chairman, in a clandestine manner, decided everything with the senior members of the committee who belonged to the ruling party.

Did you decide then itself to come out with a dissent note?

Then the generals from the defence and the (then) defence secretary Bhatnagar gave evidence. Then I came to the conclusion in my mind that something had happened, and those people were trying to hide facts. After that I was very serious and took down notes regularly. As my suspicion was very deep, I thought of writing the dissent note, but it was not allowed.

Not allowed by the committee?

Yes. First Shankaranand refused saying it was an enquiry and it was for the first time that such a committee was constituted, so no dissent note would be allowed. I argued in another way. I told them, 'Whatever be the nature of the committee, when you have a right to give a report, I have a right to give a dissent'. Is it not a logical point? Then Shankaranand said in the meeting that the Speaker (of the Lok Sabha) would decide.

Then I asked Professor Madhu Dandavate to put a question during Zero Hour to the Speaker, that is, whether the Speaker would allow me to put forth the dissent note or not. Dandavate co-operated very well. The question was, 'The chairman of the enquiry committee has refused to accept a dissent note from the member, and is it not undemocratic?' The chair allowed the dissent note to be included in the report, and only after that, it was included.

How did other JPC members react to the Speaker's decision?

After the order from the chair, some members requested me (not to go ahead) and some upbraided me. They said, 'Out of 30 members, you alone disagree with our contention. It is not good for us. Kindly withdraw the dissent note.' I stoutly refused. I said, 'My dissent note is the real report. Your report is a cover-up story. And it is going to be established in future.'

Your dissent note might have been an embarrassment to the Rajiv Gandhi government. What was the government's reaction?

I was told that the government was shocked to see my dissent note. Perhaps the Speaker thought that it contained only two or three pages, so they were shocked to see my 20-page dissent note which had incontestable evidence and irrefutable observations. I must say, they even doubted my dissent note. They felt it was prepared by somebody else. I came to know later that Shankaranand, Gadgil and Kaul had said that I was active from the very beginning, asking questions and preparing notes. They said I alone was functioning very well. So the draft was not prepared by somebody else, but was my own.

Even though you were in alliance with the ruling party, you chose to disagree.

Yes, in fact, some of my friends asked me, 'You are an allied party, why do you do this?' But that was a committee, and it was expected to function independently. Partisan attitude should not be there in the functioning of the committee.

Even then did you suspect that all the leads pointed towards the Congress party and Rajiv Gandhi?

Involvement of the former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was not directly established in the enquiry. The suspicion was there. So in the dissent note also, I have stated that there is no direct evidence to say that Rajiv Gandhi was involved. But there are lots of evidence that show that he had shown extra interest in favouring the Bofors company.

You must be happy with the way the case is moving now, aren't you?

Aladi Aruna Yes, now I am happy because what I had observed earlier is coming true now. I had clearly stated all this in the dissent note. My observations were (reads out from the JPC report):

1. M/s A B Bofors have been favoured for the contract of 155 mm gun system by the ministry of defence while Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi was also the defence minister;

2. the story of no middlemen, no payment of commissions, is unbelievable;

3. Recipients disclosed by M/s Bofors have not done any service in the arms deal. They were exploited for commissions;

4. Claim of winding-up clause by M/s Bofors is untenable. In the absence of any service from these agencies, i e, Svenska and AE Services, the payment of 319 million kroner could have been made only to an Indian or Indian associates or both. The claim of business confidentiality by Bofors is nothing but a scapegoat to conceal the real culprit;

5. The direct involvement of our prime minister, Shri Rajiv Gandhi. has not been established, but the relevant records reveal his extraordinary interest in favour of Bofors.

These observations are now discovered true.

It was reported that they now are going to follow your list regarding the people to be questioned. Do you feel happy about the denouement, that after such a long time you are going to be proved right?

Yes, yes. My stand was true. Hereafter they will not charge that mine was a motivated and partisan attitude. Only the report of the enquiry committee was submitted to Parliament. The entire proceedings of the Bofors committee was not submitted. My appeal now is that it should be placed before Parliament.

General Sundarji and some other officials frankly admit that it was due to the advice of the defence ministry that they gave evidence in that manner (to the JPC). Now they (must) speak the truth. But at the time of giving evidence, the generals from the army, the officers from the defence ministry, etc, did not speak the truth. They totally mislead the JPC, including General Sundarji and Bhatnagar, and the president and the vice-president of the Bofors company.

How they mislead and what is the gravity of it all should be known to the public, for which placing the documents of the entire proceedings related to the JPC before Parliament is necessary. Now you have received a report of 500 pages from the Swiss court. We can compare both the reports and find out how our officials have betrayed the right causes.

The officials might have been under pressure.

Could have been. Subsequently, Bhatnagar was preferred for governorships and other things, you know that well.

The Bofors case has been reopened after a decade. Do you think the public will have any interest in that, especially after hearing about various scandals involving millions of rupees?

See, it is true that we are witnessing scandal after scandal every day. It doesn't matter. But this is a scandal relating to the purchasing of the weapons which involves a risk elment in our security. A thorough enquiry is necessary in this. It is not only a matter of corruption but a matter of security also. The culprit, whoever it is, is secondary. What is needed is a thorough enquiry. If anybody is found guilty, they should be punished.

Will anything of that sort happen?

We are for that. We are for that.

You are also a partner in the United Front government...

That's a different issue. You see, don't mingle the enquiry, the case, etc, with political functioning. That's a different thing. It is expected from any government to hold the enquiry fairly without bias and prejudice.

The general impression that ordinary people have is that political influence plays a major role whenever there is an enquiry.

The impression is created by the mass media.

Will not the ordinary man who hears about scams worth millions of rupees think that this case is insignificant as far as the amount is concerned? He might not think of the security aspect of the case.

I don't know. It will create another good impression also; that is, in spite of the long delay, truth survives.

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

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