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HVK Archives: Strange timing

Strange timing - Mid-Day

Rahul Singh ()
February 25, 1998

Title: Strange timing
Author: Rahul Singh
Publication: Mid-Day
Date: February 25, 1998

There is an intriguing, full-page article in one of the national
dailies of last Tuesday. I am going to make it the subject of
this column, since there is a lot of explosive material in it,
relevant to the ongoing election.

The article is by B G Deshmukh, former cabinet secretary under
Rajiv Gandhi and among the more respected civil servants of our
times (he was also chief secretary of Maharashtra). He had a
reputation of being quite pro-Rajiv, which is why what he has
written is bound to raise some eyebrows. It will also, I am
sure, be used against the Sonia Gandhi camp.

The article begins by saying that the writer had been collecting
material and made some notes with the purpose of writing his
memoirs. But some of the matters he was planning to write about
had become such ot topics at present that he wanted to make
the facts known to the public now itself. In Tuesday's issue of
the paper, Deshmukh has written at some length on the Bofors
business and issues related to it (subsequent articles will
apparently discuss the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the destruction
of the Babri Masjid).

On Bofors, what he has to say is absolutely damning of the Rajiv
government. Deshmukh details how Rajiv declared categorically at
the start of his administration that no commissions would be paid
on such arms deals. This was part of his r Clean image.

When Swedish Radio broadcast that Bofors, the Swedish arms
company, had won the gun deal by bribing senior Indian
politicians and key defence officials through secret Swiss bank
accounts, the Indian government called the allegations, "false,
baseless and mischievous." But then the Swedish Audit Bureau came
into the picture by starting an inquiry. The Swedish government
forwarded the inquiry report to New Delhi, but deleted large
sections of it.

hese portions must have contained names of recipients of
considerable amounts, writes Deshmukh.

Why did the Swedish government delete those sections? Simply
because Olaf Palme, the Swedish prime minister, who was later
assassinated, was himself involved in the deal. Deshmukh does not
say this but it is pretty evident.

Deshmukh says he suggested the setting up of an inquiry
commission headed by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, which
would be more credible than a Joint Parliamentary Commission
(JPC) which the Congress could stack with its members. His
suggestion was disregarded. He also opposed making Shankaranand
(who would later be tainted by various scams) chairman of the
JPC, since he was a minister and could not possibly give a report
embarrassing to the Rajiv government. Again, Deshmukh was

The next development was the visit of the Bofors team - which
Rajiv cancelled at the last minute. Deshmukh claims that by now
the Prime Minister's Office had come to know the names of
recipients of the pay-offs. "One could only surmise that these
beneficiaries could be the Congress or a close relation or friend
of the prime minister's family." he writes.

The Hinduja family, now widely suspected to be one of the
beneficiaries, also come into Deshmukh's narrative: "Whenever I
talked to Gopi Hinduja about the names of the recipients, his
only cryptic reply was that if and when the names did come out
Rajiv would face acute embarrassment," writes Deshmukh.

The final stage of the Bofors saga during the Rajiv
administration concerns the then Central Bureau of Investigation
(CBI) director Mohan Khatre. He drafted a letter to the Swiss
authorities asking for assistance in finding out names of
recipients and where they had put the money. He needed the go-
ahead from the PMO to say in the letter that bribery was involved
because unless that was included the Swiss would take no action
(tax fraud or tax evasion does not come under a serious category
of crime, at least as far as the Swiss are concerned.)

The PMO refused to include that bit, even though the original
letter, as drafted by Khatre and Deshmukh, had put it in. As
expected, the Swiss ignored the letter. A massive cover-up
operation was on, an operation that Chandrashekhar, when he
became prime minister, continued, implies Deshmukh. Yet,
strangely, after saying all this he gives Rajiv a clean chit.

"I can say without any hesitation that neither Rajiv nor any
member of his family received any amounts in the Bofors case," he
writes. "His personal integrity was beyond doubt."

I find that difficult to swallow after what Deshmukh has written
and darkly hinted about. There is an even more intriguing section
relating to the attempt on Rajiv's life (a man had hidden in a
bush overnight and then fired at Rajiv at Rajghat on Gandhi
Jayanti). Following that attempt. a couple of security officers
were deputed to go for special training to Italy.

Deshmukh, who was then the cabinet secretary, found to his
amazement that this would cost $ 250,000 (Rs 1 crore at today's
exchange rate). The money was to be delivered personally by the
Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) director in hard cash in Italy.
The intended recipient, says Deshmukh, "was Rajiv's in-law." In
other words, a very close relative of Sonia.

I believe that Deshmukh has rolled a. grenade in the direction of
the Congress, in particular, at Sonia, after pulling the pin out.
Why he chose to write what he has done at this juncture, right in
the middle of polling, only he knows. We can only speculate.

(Rahul Singh travels widely and writes about issues of social

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