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The Rediff Interview/V P Singh

February 07, 2004

The Delhi high court judgment clearing Rajiv Gandhi of any wrongdoing in the Bofors scandal elicited sympathy from Vishwanath Pratap Singh who succeeded the former as prime minister.

In this exclusive interview to Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay, Singh explains what he felt about the verdict and why he has come out in support of Rajiv's widow, Congress party president chief Sonia Gandhi.

Why have you now come out in support of Rajiv Gandhi following the high court verdict on Bofors when you used the issue so effectively to defeat him in the 1989 general election?

Let me put the record straight. Everybody knows I worked with Rajiv closely and we also fought each other over our beliefs.  We fought the elections on the (Bofors) issue and the people gave their electoral verdict. It was an honest fight and I want to make it clear that at no point of time did I make the charge that Rajiv personally took money in the Bofors affair.

Didn't you respond enthusiastically to the slogan 'Raja Manda, phor bhanda (disclose the truth)'  in the 1989 general election  pertaining to Rajiv and the Bofors scandal?

Of course, I fought the election vigorously but I was very clear in what I said. I highlighted the fact that contrary to his (Rajiv's) claim, there were middlemen in the deal. I also underscored the fact that much more money was paid than just the 'winding up charges' being claimed.

My conscience is clear and I stand by my statement. My contention was vindicated after the Indian government received Swiss bank documents following the Swiss court's orders.

You have been criticised for adopting double standards. You opposed Rajiv when he was alive, but you are apparently sympathetic towards his wife and children when he is no more.

I have always been straight in my dealings, whether now or in yesteryear. There was no flip-flop, if that is what you mean.

During your campaign in the 1989 general election you often said at public meetings that Rajiv Gandhi had lied in the Bofors deal.

I had drawn attention to the fact that there were middlemen and a much larger amount was involved than mere winding up charges.

Why did you tell a press conference this week that it is grossly unfair to cast aspersions on the Gandhi family just because it is close to one of the main accused -- Ottavio Quattrochi -- in the Bofors scandal?

That's right, how can anybody cast aspersions on her (Sonia's) family without any proof? I have also underscored that Quattrochi is absconding and so is much of the Bofors mystery along with him. The charges against her and her family (son Rahul and daughter Priyanka) was made by a ruling party leader (the BJP's Vijay Kumar Malhotra) which was obviously to extract undue political mileage.

Why do you think the BJP is out to victimise Sonia and her family at this juncture on the Bofors issue?

The general election is approaching and I don't think the BJP and its allies savour the prospect of the unity of the secular forces. I am emphaisising that unity of secular forces is much more important than the Bofors debate. The secular forces can fathom the mischief  (being contemplated by their communal counterparts). The stand of every concerned party is on

The secular forces are clear that the Bofors debate should not be allowed to be exploited by the BJP for its selfish motives. That is why the secular forces are sinking differences to rally against the BJP.

Please explain your statement that the finality of the courts should be accepted.

Otherwise, controversial matters will never end. Despite our personal views and beliefs, the courts should be left to decide such matters in their wisdom.

What do you think about the BJP leaders' criticism against Rahul and Priyanka?

Those are politically inspired attacks designed to deter them.

Do you think the BJP is apprehensive about the entry into politics of Rajiv's children?

It makes you think why seasoned politicians are stooping to the level of criticising youngsters who have no political experience.

Image: Uttam Ghosh

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