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Queer silence on the Bofors boom

December 10, 2002 14:27 IST

"Rajiv stage-managed purchase of Bofors gun: court." That was the two-lined and four-column headline on an inside page of The Hindu newspaper, dated November 20, 2002. Four days earlier, the same newspaper had, on an inside page again, carried only a slightly less provocative three-column headline that said "Bofors deal: 'Abuse of official position'/Massive cover-up: judge"

Considering that Bofors was the single biggest political scam in free India until the Tehelka allegations came along, and considering that the nation's prime minister was (unlike in Tehelka) the hottest suspect, the above two headlines should have been screaming across the full width of all our newspapers without exception, and formed a subject for television debates. That it didn't happen that way is queer, a mystery that can be resolved only by surmise than by professional ratiocination.

Why, even The Indian Express which, after a long lapse, has delivered several sordid exposures in recent weeks, chose to stay muted on the first-ever judicial indictment of the Bofors deal although it had, along with The Hindu, done considerable illuminating work on the subject during the time Arun Shourie was at its editorial helm.

For that matter, the numerous web sites in cyberspace -- that usually bombard a columnists' inbox with news and views on everything under the sun -- were strangely silent on the explosive Bofors development.

That the definitive movement ahead on the 16-year scam was truly explosive is clear from the following excerpts of The Hindu reports based on the 176-page order of the presiding judge, Prem Kumar, of the Central Bureau of Investigation's special court:

  • "Notwithstanding the superiority of the French gun, Sofma, the former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, ‘stage-managed the proposal from the Army headquarters in such a way that they recommended the Bofors gun'"
  • "Tracing the close relationship of the Italian businessman, Ottavio Quattrochi, the judge said that around 1974, he was introduced to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi by an Italian, Molinari. Mr and Mrs Quattrochi started visiting the Gandhis and had free access to the prime minister's house. In turn, the Rajiv family also visited Mr Quattrochi's house. The Orissa Power Plant and very many deals awarded to Mr Quattrochi during the period of Rajiv Gandhi as Prime Minister will speak about the link of power groups and corruption," Mr Kumar said.
  • "The CBI court has held that that there was a secret design by the former Prime Minister, the late Rajiv Gandhi, and the former Defence Secretary, S K Bhatnagar (since deceased) to ensure that the AB Bofors Company was awarded the Bofors gun deal by abusing their official position."
  • "…the haste with which signatures were obtained from various officials and the Ministers speaks out for the fact that there was oblique motive in the whole affair. Six departments were involved. Eleven signatures of the officials and Ministers were got on the file in a matter of less than 48 hours."
  • "The Special Judge held that the Bofors Company had used corrupt or illegal means or by abuse of office by public servants, S K Bhatnagar and Rajiv Gandhi to obtain the contract."
  • "After obtaining the contract, AB Bofors had paid a commission of SEK 50.46 millions to Ottavio Quattrochi through AE Services Ltd; SEK 192.15 millions in the name of Svenska Inc. and SEK 80.79 millions to Hinduja brothers through In tyre Corporation's three accounts, SEK 31.98 millions through Swiss Bank Corporation and SEK 11.77 millions through Credit Suisse, and thereby to cheat the Government of India by corrupt or illegal means or by abuse of official position by public servants S K Bhatnagar and Rajiv Gandhi to award the aforesaid contract."
  • "He (Special Judge) said the Bofors scandal was a case of deep-rooted conspiracy and political pay-offs, and bristled with all manner of complexities and complications. He referred to the statement made by Rajiv Gandhi in the Lok Sabha that there were no middlemen in the deal, that if anyone gave the Government any evidence it would take stern action and that nobody would be allowed to go scot-free. But Rajiv Gandhi pretended to be a maverick and did not show any sincerity to find out the truth, the judge said."

Let it be noted that the above are not intellectual interpretations of facts by journalists like Shourie, N Ram and Chitra Subramaniam -- the three musketeers who did so much work on the subject -- but recorded findings by a responsible judge on the basis of documents laid before him by the CBI.

Why then, despite the severity of the above indictment, did our newspapers and web users hardly take any notice of it? Was it because Bofors had become such a dragging bore over the years with a hundred legalities but not a single notable verdict? That's difficult to accept because these very newspapers so loudly splash, on the front page at that, orders of our Supreme Court and the Malaysian courts that have stalled the CBI. Maybe, just maybe, the media has now become so fed up with the BJP-led NDA government, and so eager to have the "secular" Congress back in power that they are keen to ensure that nothing is done to hamper that desire of theirs.

There is a much simpler reason as to why the BJP's campaign in Gujarat hasn't used the god-sent Prem Kumar's order. The reason, one is almost sure, is that Narendra Modi and Company are so deeply immersed in Godhra and Hindutva that they haven't read The Hindu of November 16 and November 20. Such indeed can be the danger of religious fervour.