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Sonia's politics - I - The Statesman

A G Noorani ()
January 29, 1998

Title: Sonia's politics - I
Author: A G Noorani
Publication: The Statesman
Date: January 29, 1998

Khoob purdah hai ke chilman se lage baithey hain/ Saaf chupte bhi
nahin, saamne aate bhi nahin (A strange purda is it that you
cling to the blind/ Neither concealing yourself fully, nor
appearing in the open). The couplet belongs to the genius of
Daagh; the magic of Begum Akhtar's voice made it immortal. It is
an accurate description of Sonia Gandhi's politics not only since
the death of her husband Rajiv Gandhi on 21 May 1991, but even
before it, "I will see to your end, if I am alive, for what you
said about me in Parliament she angrily told P Upendra at the
Hyderabad airport on 22 December 1987. The streak of viciousness
and vendetta which she bared on that occasion, so boorishly,
found expression in party intrigues and came out in the open in
her letter to Milap Chand Jain J. He had asked for her affidavit,
a statement on oath. She simply sent a letter of tirade against V
P Singh and other political opponents. He dutifully took it on
record and quoted from it with unconcealed relish.

The couple's devotion to each other was praiseworthy; almost
legendary. They truly shared each other's life. From this hard
fact, three inferences follow.


First, it s most unlikely that she was unaware of his doings
which makes the CBI's omission to interrogate her on Bofors
inexplicable. The second is that while Sonia was devoted to
Rajiv, she had and still has no such commitment to his country.
In the mini-biography of Rajiv which Jain J fondly records in his
Report occurs this bit: "At Cambridge, Rajiv met Sonia Maino of
Italy and a nuptial knot was tied between the two in 1968."

It says a lot about her that for a decade and a half there after,
even while enjoying a privileged position in the P M's house in
New Delhi, she chose not to acquire Indian citizenship. No less
eloquent is the timing of her decision to do so. It was either in
1983 or, according to another report, a couple of months before
Indira Gandhi's assassination. In either case, it was the
immanence of the Lok Sabha elections, due by January 1985, that
forced the decision. Sworn in as M P on 17 August 1981, Rajiv was
made General Secretary of the AICC(I) on 3 February 1983. He
could not have campaigned in 1984, even if the P M had not been
assassinated. if his wife held an Italian passport; still less
become a member of his mother's Cabinet.

The third and last point to note is a total absence of any
Interest on Sonia's part In any of the major issues of policy
before the country. True, her education is very limited. But 30
years of membership of India's first political family should have
sufficed to instil interest enough in any of the issues one would
expect a person like her to become involved in - women's rights,
environment, secularism, rural uplift, etc. None expects her to
speak on corruption, of course. She might have also acquired
some aptitude avid equipment to be able to say a few unscripted
words to a crowd in English at least on Bofors and Babri Masjid.

What is the profile she has cut in the media all these years? It
is one of power without responsibility. She did not give evidence
either to the Verma or the Jain Commission. Nor did she denounce
in public a close friend whom the Swiss courts adjudged to be a
recipient of the kickbacks in the Bofors deal. What hats she
stood for? There have been just two areas of concern to abort the
probe into the Bofors scandal and to use Rajiv Gandhi's
assassination as a weapon with which to malign his political
opponents. Not a single issue which concerns the country's weal
and transcends her personal agenda claimed her interest all these
years. She felt herself forced to enter the electoral arena. Even
a worm can turn. If she had decided otherwise, the most servile
of congressmen would have wondered what use she was to them if
shed did not help them now as they faced near extinction. And
there was Bofors for which two Governments were pulled down.

Documents pertaining to the shadowy A E Services Ltd which had
received $8 million in kickbacks from Bofors reached India as far
back as on 13 December 1990. V P Singh had resigned as P M on 7
November 1990. AES' case was decided by a Zurich court, while
the others battled before a court in Geneva. All the accounts
were frozen a mere four days after the CBI filed an FIR on 22
January 1990. The CBI simply set on the AES records which had
come into its hands.

The bulk of the Bofors papers were received by the CBI's Director
Joginder Singh in Geneva on 21 January 1997. For the first time
in a whole decade, a probe into this colossal scandal began at
the seat of its origin, New Delhi. Many who figured in the
dramatis personae were questioned for hours. On 11 February 1997
the CBI con confirmed what was never in doubt; namely, that Rajiv
and Sonia Gandhi's close friends Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife
Maria were among the five recipients of the Bofors pay-offs
mentioned in the documents the CBI had received from the Swiss


On 13 February, Chitra Subramaniam reported, on the basis of her
independent investigations, that Quattrocchi had received $7
million from Bofors through A E Services. She even quoted the
Geneva account number of Colbar Investments Inc which he owned
and the date on which he had received. On 16 February, just five
days after the CBI's disclosure, the CWC passed a resolution
saying that its support to the UF Government was ot un-
conditional and authorising its President Sitaram Kesri to talk
to its leaders and here to take appropriate steps=94. On 30 March
he withdrew support from the Deve Gowda Government.

Inder Gujral tried to save his job by stalling on the CBI's
report on Bofors submitted in May. By October it was evident that
his skills for survival would be put to severe tests once the
Jain Report was put before parliament when it met on 19 November.
The Gujral Government suddenly be stirred itself on Bofors. On 7
November it gave permission to the CBI to proceed with preparing
a letter of rogatory to the British Government asking for names
of ac count holders in the Channel Islands to whom the Bofors
money had been transferred from Geneva. On 21 November the Court
approved of the letter rogatory as required by the CrPC. On 3
December, talks between U F and Congress broke down and the
Cabinet decided to recommend dissolution of the Lok Sabha. On 5
December the letter rogatory was despatched to the Indian High
Commission. On 29 December, Sonia Gandhi announced her decision
to campaign for the Congress. She had enrolled herself as a
member of the Delhi PCC only on 31 March 1997. The fact was made
public on 8 May. At the Calcutta session of the AICC, on 9
August, she heard Kesri's plea to "lead the party" granting her
the freedom to "do anything she wants". She responded by quoting
extensively from Rajiv's famous speech to the AICC in Bombay in
December 1985 in which he had castigated the party.

It was in this context that Sonia delivered her Bofors speech at
Bangalore on 15 January 1998, the very second in the campaign. It
was worse than disingenuous. It was down-right dishonest, "Six
governments have come and gone, five from the opposition parties;
yet the truth has not come out. I wonder why."


The tally itself is deceptive. Radio Dagens Eko broadcast the
scandal to the wide world on 16 April 191.17. C)f the six
governments that fell since, only one was run by the opposition-V
P Singh's National Front. Two others depended on Congress support
which she pulled away no sooner they made any effort to get at
the truth - the Gowda and Gujral regimes. Chandra Shekhar's was a
Congress(I) creature and tool. No wonder he ex-claimed: "What
great sin has been committed if he (Rajiv) accepted Rs 60 crores
as commission? In those nearly eleven years, the Congress(I) was
in power for nearly nine years; P V Narasimha Rao for five (1991-
96) and her husband for nearly for after the broadcast, right
till 29 November 1989 when he resigned.

Rajiv Gandhi's prevarication and lies, no less than his many
efforts to burke any inquiry whatever, are matter of authentic
record. The Swedes, the Swiss, the Chief of Army Staff, Gen K
Sundarji and his friend, Arun Singh, knew all this first hand.
"Of course, none of us was aware that the very highest could have
been involved in the matter, Sundarji confessed in March 1997.
Sweden's prosecutor Lars Ringberg complained, on 25 January 1988:
"A judicial inquiry concerning possible bribery offences has not
been commenced in India". He expected "some form of response". He
got none. Instead, the Swedish Government was pressurised to get
him to end his work. Rajiv nomination of a B Shankaranand as
Chairman of the Bofors JPC itself showed his malafides. The last
statement on Bofors by his Government in Parliament was made on
25 July 1989. It blamed the Swiss for refusing to accede to
requests which were deliberately worded defectively. The sheer
dishonesty of it all stood exposed within months thereafter.

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