Whichever way you roll the dice, you’ll land on this question—why did Bofors pay Quattrocchi? We knew that in 1989. No Raksha Mantri to date has given the country a reply to that question. But more of that in some time.
One thing is certain. We never lose an opportunity to let ourselves down. The other, even more certain thing is that it is never our fault. The evil world conspires against us innocents to ensure that we remain corrupt, malnourished and hungry. In the BC days—before computers—we were able to keep a lid on our laundry. Today, it all hangs out in pubic, while we still blame the foreign hand. In times of yore, it was the CIA or the KGB. Now we just say foreign hand.
As a reporter for The Indian Express and other publications abroad, I covered the GATT-WTO talks from Punta del Este in Uruguay to Marrakesh in Morocco where the WTO was officially born, wrote widely on human rights (we made fools of ourselves at the UNHRC vote on Sri Lanka) and disarmament, and covered Davos when it was still the European and not the World Economic Forum (WEF). Nothing is more embarrassing than being told by foreigners that my country has struck deals behind closed doors that do not represent our interests.
In my limited view, the only time we stood up as a nation was when our former ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Arundhati Ghose, told the world to take a walk on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)—a discriminatory treaty that would have tied us up in knots. That was almost 15 years ago, but I remember it like yesterday. India was being targeted for being a treaty-breaker and the world media reported that we were going to walk out any minute. There was tremendous pressure on Ghose. Once, when the then British ambassador said India was wriggling on a hook, she retorted that only worms wriggle on hooks. “Are you calling India a worm?” she asked him in front of the whole world.
The CTBT negotiations often went well into midnight. Once, when Ghose emerged to answer nature’s call, the world media ran after her, asking if India was walking out. “India is going to the loo,” she said as she puffed on her cigarette. At the final press conference, packed with many journalists and experts, the tall and muscular US ambassador said, “The people of the world want the CTBT—India is blocking it.”
Wait a minute, said the small-statured Ghose. “I represent over a billion people—we are part of the world and we don’t want this treaty that discriminates against us.” The room, full of her “enemies”, broke into thunderous applause.
What, you must wonder, is the link between Ghose and the recent revelations by Sten Lindstrom, the retired Swedish police chief. Plenty, I would say. The same qualities of courage, fortitude, a sense of justice, an ability to withstand immense pressure and stand by what one believes is right.
The world is full of honest officers doing their job. Lindstrom did not wake up one morning and decide that he was going to topple a government, much less make history. Twenty-five years ago, working as a part-time reporter for The Hindu, I covered l’affaire Bofors from the day the Swedish State Radio broke the story (April 16, 1987) and remained with it for ten years till the end of 1996. I was invited by the Swiss, not Indian, authorities to the quiet ceremony when the Swiss government officially handed over several boxes of secret bank documents to the Indian ambassador in Bern. Thereafter, a personal tragedy sent me underground. I resurfaced as a senior diplomat in the United Nations.
Going by the reactions to Lindstrom’s latest revelations, we have learnt nothing. Everyone is trying to see their angle, be in their comfort zone, their little quid pro quo with disregard and disrespect for us as a nation. The media is part of this shoot-and-scoot journalism (one of the howitzers’ major assets was its ‘shoot and scoot capacity’, so that the enemy could not target it by locking in the trajectory). Whenever a major story breaks, we ask two questions—why now, and what’s the motive. In Bofors, there’s a third—what is Rs 64 crore compared to the many thousand crores paid as bribes today in any bank in any currency. It’s a running race—my crores are greater than yours.
Left, ‘Deep Throat’ Sten Lindstrom; right, middleman Quattrocchi
The Bofors story is a simple one. India bought field howitzers from Sweden in 1986 for a sum of $1.2 billion. A supply contract worth almost twice that amount was also negotiated for transfer of technology, supply of documents and knowhow, etc, so that we could become self-sufficient. The guns were excellent; the price was competitive.
The problem was the bribes, especially the ones made secretly, were unknown even to the marketing director of Bofors. These were paid to a company called AE Services, which was the front office for Quattrocchi. Lindstrom has called this the political payment. Such payments are made when all the numbers are on the table. In the case of AE Services, they came into the contract at the last minute, cut into the commissions of other agents and assured Bofors that they need not be paid if they did not ink the contract within a prescribed time-limit. No middleman has this kind of power. The modus operandi was such that barring a few people, nobody knew what the other person knew. Where have you heard that before?
An election was lost on the inability of one of our most respected and admired prime ministers to tell us why Quattrocchi was paid. The proverb ‘the way to hell is paved with good intentions’ partly describes what the V.P. Singh government did to the Bofors investigations. First he announced he would “catch the thieves” in 14 days, while all of us in Switzerland and Sweden wondered if he had some clinching evidence. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s latest assault on the Indian investigating team is not entirely incorrect, whatever his political compulsions are. I know he did good work in Mayiladuthurai and then lost the election.
The first Letter Rogatory (LR)—a legal document countries exchange before the start of international assistance in criminal matters—was a museum piece. I had assisted the Indian government in securing the services of Marc Bonnant, one of the world’s best brains in matters of international criminal assistance. He was embarrassed to tell me that the LR filed by us would be thrown out not because of substance, but because there were rubber stamps all over the evidence, with numerous signatures making every page illegible, therefore not acceptable in a court of law. Some pages were stapled all around, as if we were hiding something, and everything was bound together in a fat file with unbreakable thread. Snowman, my Swiss source, asked if cutting the unbreakable thread had any legal consequences.
That LR was thrown out, the guilty claimed victory and in the following months the government fell, but not before they had planted stories in New Delhi—the city of gossip—Switzerland and Sweden. When you treat cancer, the first diagnosis has to be accurate. If your doctor gets that wrong, you are in serious trouble. Many Indian politicians carelessly compare cancer to our political system without realising they are part of it.
So, to get back to the basic question—why did Bofors pay Q? What did successive governments in India not know, and when did they know that they didn’t know? A committee is not an answer. India is the world’s largest free market economy. If we have the will, we should be able to slap information out of governments.
(Former journalist Chitra Subramaniam Duella is co-founder, CSDconsulting, Switzerland.)
Chitra Subramaniam starts her piece with the question, Why did Bofors pay Q?, but fails to provide an answer to the million-dollar question (Smoking Guns..., May 7). She puts the responsibility squarely on governments back in Delhi. In that case, what did she achieve by interviewing the Swedish investigator?
T. Rao, Bangalore
The Bofors story is a simple one. India bought field howitzers from Sweden in 1986 for $1.2 billion. A supply contract worth almost twice that amount was also negotiated for transfer of technology, supply of documents and knowhow etc, so that we could become self-sufficient. This is exactly what Bofors, Sweden and the western world didn’t want. Knowhow and technology transfer would have been suicidal. So they preferred to sacrifice the customer.
Ajay Singh, Surat
As a first step, there should be a thorough inquiry as to why the drawings and documents for the gun have been gathering dust in the ordnance factories for over two decades and why no production was taken up despite India having spent so much. Now when the heat about criticality in ammo and guns is on—many from the public and private sector have come forward to manufacture the gun. But we should now be developing a gun system which lasts us for the next 25-30 years and incorporate features which can serve our specific requirements. We can possibly learn from the ultra-light M777 howitzer which uses titanium to cut down weight by almost half. Maybe the drdo, ordnance factories and the private sector can jointly work in the gun development team format to jumpstart the gun which had more smoke than fire.
Air Cmde (retd) Raghubir Singh, Pune
Like corporate voting by proxy, this is corruption by proxy by congress party. It is like holding the hand of someone else pushing into pit of shit without oneself soiling one;s hand. Congress, the inventor and practitioner of unique technology is exercising such faculty even today.
The Bofors story is a simple one. India bought field howitzers from Sweden in 1986 for a sum of $1.2 billion. A supply contract worth almost twice that amount was also negotiated for transfer of technology, supply of documents and knowhow, etc, so that we could become self-sufficient.
This is exactly what Bofors, Sweeden and the western world didnt wanted. Knowhow and technology transferwould have been suicidal for them. So they they preffered to sacrifice the customer.
Moot point is that we had paid $1.2 billions for the gun & almost equal amount for transfrer of technology & manufacturing drawings etc for its production which never happened. The drawings & documents have been gathering dust in Ordnace Factories for over two decades.As a first step there should be horough enquiry why no production was taken up inspite of having spent so much? Now when the heat about criticality in ammo & guns is on--many have from public & private sectors have come forward to mfr the gun.But we should now be developing gun system which lasts us for the next 25-30 years and it should incorporate latest features which would serve our specific requirements.We can possibly learn from the ultra light M777 howitzer which uses titanium to cut down weight by almosdt half. May be DRDO, Ordnance factorires and private sector can jointly work in the Gun Development team format to give jump start to the gun which had more smoke than fire?
CSD Ma'am, the answer is simple, without the payout , no deal would have been possible, however good the quality of the armament & ammunition was. (It works the other way round too, if the commission was good, even sub-standard equipment would have been fine.) The power-to-be either got a cut for his friend (great spirit of camarderie) or got a cut from his friend (in which case the buddy was just a mere facilitator).
The clear facts are the blatant cover-ups and the intransigience of successive governments (incuding the prsent opposition) in dealing with the matter in a proper manner.
The order for the arms was pulicised around late '85 - early '86 and the deal completed in late '86 (a few months after I was born). I'm nearly 26 & this controversy has'nt see to die down ... hope it does'nt hitthe headlines still when my son is 25 ... LOL
The whole thing boils down to only one thing, viz. protecting a 'G'. Minus a 'G' one political party reduces to a zero or many many zeroes. But the truth is evident. We are ruled by totally corrupt Congress party. The other parties may not be able to compepte with Congress, especially in the corruption matters. They are never interested in finding out the truth. They think that "Asataymeva Jayate!" only to face more and more humiliation.
The party which fought for independence is long dead along with Lalbahadur Sastry. The gangrene started and now had spread into all fields including the other parties. Unless this gangrene is removed, there is no remedy. Total decay and demise of values in politics. The dim rays of hope are like Anna Hazares!
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