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Remember nemesis - The Indian Express

T.V.R. Shenoy ()
February 14, 1998

Title: Remember nemesis
Author: T.V.R. Shenoy
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 14, 1998

By the grace of God and the Election Commission, the political
cannons fall silent in New Delhi and 221 other constituencies on
Valentine's Day. On a day dedicated to mending broken
relationships, Harkishen Singh Surjeet can use the leisure to pen
a valentine for 10, Janpath with a view to post-poll

And if he needs the services of a Cupid, well, the Union Home
Minister is ready and willing. Indrajit Gupta lacks the wings,
halo and bow, but is unexcelled at cooing sweet-nothings. "We
never said," he claims, "that Rajiv Gandhi took the money from
Bofors! "

Comrade Cupid's dottiness can be safely ignored. His Prime
Ministers thought him a bit of a loose cannon, and we can safely
follow their lead. But Leftist cooing aside, what are the facts?
On November 7, 1997, Justice Ajit Bharioke gave the green signal
to a request from the CBI. He permitted the agency to send
Letters Rogatory to the Channel Islands (UK), the Bahamas,
Luxembourg and Panama. They requested details of the
accountholders in these tax-havens who had received money from a
Swiss bank.

Not just any old Swiss account, mind you, but one in the name of
Ottavio Quattrocchi. The very account, in fact, in which fifty
million Swedish Kroner had been deposited from the Bofors
kickbacks. And that was the money which was sent forward to the
accounts in the four places named above.

Within 48 hours of the CBI getting permission to send the Utters
Rogatory the Congress lashed out wildly. On November 9, 1997, the
Jain Commission's Interim Report became an all-consuming issue.
Fresh polls were inevitable.

It was always a safe bet that the noise and confusion of an
election campaign would drown out the sober facts, and this is
precisely what has happened. Other than Sonia Gandhi's impudence
at Bangalore - never repeated, please notice! - Bofors has been
largely ignored by the media.

To go back a little, the late Rajiv Gandhi declared in Parliament
that neither he nor any member of his family was the recipient of
bribes. He also exculpated all Indians, but said nothing about
other nationalities, notably Italians...

But by February 1990, V.P. Singh had come in riding a wave of
disgust against corruption, largely symbolised by the Bofors
deal. When the CBI finally started making genuine enquiries,
they came across an account in Geneva in the name of the infamous
'Mr Q'. But V.P. Singh did an excellent job of destroying
himself, and the Congress was soon back in the saddle, and the
probe in cold storage.

Despite desultory progress, some people were worried enough to
litigate against the Swiss disclosing anything. In July 1993,
these litigants were identified as Win Chaddha and family, the
Hindujas, and Quattrocchi. (The Hindujas say they had nothing to
do with Bofors. But the Swiss account has records of other deals
which they would rather not disclose.)

Quattrocchi denied that he held this account, and then sneaked
out of India. Nobody has explained how he was allowed to leave.
The then Director of the CBI maintains he had sent the file on
'Mr Q' to the then Minister of State for Personnel, Margaret
Alva. Alas, following Sonia Gandhi's example, she offers no
explanation (And unlike the Rajmata, no apologies either!).

In January 1997, the CBI finally received the documents. At that
point, the officer in charge of the investigation was from the
Karnataka cadre. Prime Minister Deve Gowda, to put it mildly,
wasn't the most popular man at 10, Janpath!

The papers revealed that Quattrocchi was the true power behind
the mysterious AE Services, a firm floated exclusively to get a
commission from Bofors. Its contract with the Swedes said it
would get no money unless Bofors swung a deal with India before
March 31, 1986..

It was this mysterious provision and the hurry in high decision-
making quarters that led the CBI team to conclude that there was
a conspiracy. Ale relevant file was put up to Rajiv Gandhi, then
doubling as Defence Minister, without going through the office of
his Principal Secretary, Sarla Grewal.

The officers who did so were Gopi Arora (then boss of the PMO)
and S.K. Bhatnagar (then Defence Secretary). lie CBI team has
concluded that both should be prosecuted, and Madhavsinh Solanki
besides. He, as you may recall, was Narasimha Rao's first
External Affairs Minister. He went to Davos in that capacity, and
gave the Swiss a letter asking them to go slow on the Bofors

When Sonia spouts treacly rubbish about nothing coming to light
after ten years, remember how Congressmen like Solanki did their
best to derail the probe. Remember too that every government but
those of V.P. Singh and A.B. Vajpayee was either a Congress
administration or one resting on Congress backing.

The sole difference, if you want to call it that, is that where
Congressmen actively hindered the investigation, the United Front
;was content to wallow in inertia for the most part. Though
documents were received from Switzerland in January 1997, it was
only in September that the CBI's political bosses allowed it to
approach the courts for the Letters Rogatory.

Incredibly, another of the CBI's requests is still pending. The
agency had requested the declassification of 52 files, all
necessary to prove the conspiracy aspect of the Bofors case.
Given Prime Minister Gujral's view on "witch-hunting", it is no
surprise that permission hasn't yet been given.

But blackmail and threats are double-edged swords. If the
Congress could suspend a Damoclean blade over the UF, others
could do some arm-twisting of their own. Was there, perhaps, a
hint of this in the Westland helicopter deal?

These British helicopters are so dangerous that Rajiv Gandhi once
declared India wouldn't take them even if they came free. A
single meeting with Margaret Thatcher changed his mind. The
Channel Islands, where Quattrocchi sent the Bofors funds, are
British territory. Just coincidence?

Let me be frank: as long as certain powerful Indian citizens try
to hide the truth of Bofors, they are vulnerable to blackmail
>from external powers. And that is not a healthy sign for India.

Watergate was said to be the attempt to cover up the original
crime which undid President Nixon. You could say much the same
of Bofors. The original crime was 'merely' corruption, now it is
an issue of national security.

Worship Eros if you will tonight, but remember a different deity
when you vote: Nemesis!

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