Commentary/T V R Shenoy
Bofors can blast the Gujral government to smithereens
Last week I refused to use this column as a diatribe
against Laloo Prasad Yadav, choosing to focus on the Indian Bank's
mysterious losses. My reasoning was simple: why should I bother
when his comrades possess a much more 'colourful' vocabulary?
The logic still holds. This week let us go back to
a time before the fodder scam, farther back even than the Indian
bank scandal, to the grandmother of them all -- Bofors.
There is every reason to believe that the CBI has
collected overwhelming evidence against the late Rajiv Gandhi.
It proves that the Congress prime minister manipulated matters
to give Bofors the order. It shows that Gandhi repeatedly sabotaged
every honest effort to investigate the scandal.
But the Gujral ministry is in an oxygen tent -- and
the Congress has its hand on the cylinder. Nevertheless, the truth
is beginning to come out in bits and pieces. Here are some parts
of this jigsaw.
Did you know that Rajiv Gandhi ensured that the relevant
files would not be routed through Sarla Grewal (then principal
secretary to the prime minister) just as the deal was being finalised?
Instead, the files were handled by Gopi Arora, who wasn't even
a full-fledged secretary at the time.
This is highly unusual behaviour. What was it that
the prime minister was trying to hide from his own principal
secretary? And why did he go down the bureaucracy to find an
officer whom he could trust?
But his behaviour after the scandal came into the
open was even more peculiar. I would like to cite something that
happened in 1988.
Bofors announced that it was ready to come clean.
The Swedish firm agreed to send two of its most senior officers
to Delhi, who would co-operate fully with investigators.
At this point, Rajiv Gandhi was in Moscow on yet
another paid holiday at the taxpayers's expense. (If somebody protests
against this description of Gandhi's jet-setting, ask them to
name just one benefit of that trip to Moscow.)
Gandhi came back to Delhi barely twenty-four hours
before the Bofors team was scheduled to arrive. Once his sycophantic
ministers had hung a few marigolds around his neck and smiled
for the cameras, Gandhi proceeded to more important work.
Believe it or not, the prime minister called an emergency
meeting then and there at the airport! It didn't last very long,
but that is probably because Rajiv Gandhi had already made up
The result of the meeting was a message being sent
to Sweden. Its gist was simple: The Bofors team shouldn't set
foot in India.
To this day, no Congressman has come up with a reasonable
explanation for their beloved leader's mystifying behaviour. Rajiv
Gandhi himself was hard put to offer a reason. The best he could
do was, "They wouldn't have told the truth!"
Gandhi never deigned to explain how he knew that.
But there are only two possibilities.
First, Rajiv Gandhi was an all-knowing god, and no
mere mortal! But nobody except a Congressman believes that.
Second, he himself had ordered Bofors to keep quiet,
or he knew that somebody else in authority had done so. And that
opens up a can of worms, doesn't it?
There are a number of other explained phenomena in
the Bofors saga. (Why on earth, for instance, should an Italian
be paid off in a deal between a Swedish firm and the Indian government?)
But it is almost certain that the CBI won't dare
to accuse Rajiv Gandhi. But the facts are bound to come out when
it files charges against others. If, that is, the United Front
government 'declassifies' some all-important files...
That really is the question. The Janata Dal rose
to prominence thanks to the wave of revulsion caused by Bofors.
Please remember that it was as a crusader against corruption that
V P Singh made his reputation, and then became prime minister.
Is it possible that the same Janata Dal (and the
same Communists 'supporting from outside') will cheerfully
bury the Bofors probe?
On the other hand, can the Congress afford to sit
back and watch the Nehru-Gandhi name being damaged beyond repair?
Especially when the current Congress president is the family's
Frankly, it is a case of the irresistible force meeting
the immovable object. The Janata Dal is reeling under charges
of corruption against its own leaders. It can't afford to lose
any more credibility.
The Congress, on the contrary, can't sit idle. Like
it or not, the Gandhi name still counts for something. If it is
tarnished, the party loses its trump card.
There are rumours that 10, Janpath had a hand in
Kesri's precipitous decision to withdraw support. Can it happen
Let me put it this way: Laloo Prasad Yadav can bluster
up to a point, but not much more. Bofors, on the other hand, can
blast the Gujral ministry to smithereens!
Tell us what you think of this column