The Rediff Special / Aladi Aruna
Rajiv Gandhi favoured Bofors, says ex-JPC member
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
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?
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
The chairman, in a clandestine manner, decided everything with
the senior members of the committee who belonged to the ruling
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,
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
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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