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Author: V P Singh
Publication: The Times of India
Date: February 23, 2004
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/512580.cms

Introduction: Fight with Rajiv wasn't worth it

Following Rajiv Gandhi's acquittal by the Delhi high court in the Bofors case, a number of senior Congress leaders, including Mani Shankar Aiyar, have raised questions about my role in the controversy and demanded an apology.
I feel I owe it to the nation, both as a senior political leader and a former prime minister, to explain myself.
At the outset, a clarification: I parted company with Rajiv on the issue of HDW submarine and not Bofors. The Bofors issue was first raised by Swedish Radio, after I'd already left the government. It was then picked up by the press and the opposition.
To put the record straight: I'd challenged Rajiv's statement that no money had been paid in the Bofors deal. It has now been proved that money was paid. I'd disputed his statement that there were no middlemen involved.
It is now clear that middlemen were indeed involved in the deal. I'd disputed Rajiv's contention that only 'winding up' charges were paid. It is now proven that payments had been made after the supposed winding up.
I'd claimed that Bofors had paid money in account number 99921-TU- Swiss Bank Corporation. That too has now come to be true. As my stand on each of these counts has been vindicated, there is no question of my apologising for the same. I stand by my statements.
That said, I never accused Rajiv of having personally taken money. Nor did I ever question the quality of the gun. If I'd had done so, there ought to be plenty of evidence of both in the form of newspaper headlines, video/ audio records, etc.
Remember, at the height of the Bofors row, I was being continuously tracked by the media as well as by the intelligence. In fact, when a leading English newspaper in Lucknow misreported that the account number I'd given belonged to Rajiv, I immediately called a press conference and clarified that the account number in question belonged to 'Svenska'.
No one, in other words, ought to attribute things to me that I never said.
During the campaign, I put my foot down against anyone personally attacking Rajiv. The same cannot, I admit, be said of other opposition leaders involved in the campaign. Each party campaigned in its own way.
It is undeniable too that personal accusations against Rajiv were made from many platforms. At the same time, the Congress cannot deny that it had raised the slogan, Raja nahin runk hai, desh ka kalank hai, against me.
Sure, the senior Congress leadership wouldn't have approved of it, but party workers did go round writing it on the walls.
Similarly, no amount of opposition propaganda could've hurt Rajiv had he not taken different stands on Bofors at different times. It damaged his credibility and gave the impression of a cover-up.
The point has been made that I'd claimed I'd come out with the names of the Bofors culprits within 15 days of assuming office.
What I'd actually said was that we'd blacklist Bofors and it'll be forced to come up with the names in a fortnight. While that didn't happen, the Swedish firm did negotiate the sharing of names within a few months.
More than anything else, however, the high court judgment is a scathing indictment of the CBI. Yet, we must acknowledge that whatever information we have today - the Swiss accounts in which Bofors paid money, the names of the recipients, etc - is thanks partly to the initial efforts of the CBI, during my tenure, and partly to courageous journalists in the media.
Notwithstanding the CBI's dismal record, we must recognise too that unearthing evidence abroad is a very difficult job. There are serious limitations to it.
Clearly, the CBI and the BJP government ought not to have included Rajiv's name in the accused list in the first place, and not only because criminal liability abates after death.
The evidence in hand should have been evaluated before chargesheeting him. The government and the CBI failed totally on that count. At the very least they should rectify that mistake now - before going in appeal to the Supreme Court.
Such a scrutiny of available evidence should also be done in the St Kitts case, in which my son Ajeya and I have both been the victims of a proven forgery.
Indeed, a judicial committee should assess the evidence available with the CBI in all such cases filed by it, lest we should have a repeat of Bofors or the Jain diary cases.
As for what's happening now, I've often asked myself whether the fight with Rajiv over the HDW submarine was really worth it.
A very senior bureaucrat, who I respect very much, had told me in 1987 that the parting of ways between Rajiv and me would have a major impact on the country. I did not believe it then. In retrospect, I think I was wrong.
While I could make some claims about the probity of the NF government at the Centre, the same claim, alas, cannot be made for all the then Janata Dal state governments.
Having tolerated them, I was back to square one. As a political party we in Janata Dal lost the moral ground. I was part of it. A regret I will never be able to overcome.
The past, of course, cannot be undone. But let each of us carry our lessons to the future.

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