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Bull's Eye

Last week, the Delhi High Court exonerated the late prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in the Bofors bribery case. The Bofors probe had for 17 years enacted ...

Bull's Eye
Last week, the Delhi High Court exonerated the late prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in the Bofors bribery case. The Bofors probe had for 17 years enacted a farce that upstaged even the Keystone Cops. Watergate and other probes show us that authorities must identify and then cross-examine each person involved in a crime, however petty. That in turn leads to the big fish. This was never attempted here. But to begin at the beginning.

I was perhaps among the first to attempt legal proceedings in the Bofors case. In 1987, I petitioned President Zail Singh for permission to prosecute Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Zail Singh consulted retired chief justice Chandrachud who said prima facie a case did exist but cautioned against granting permission. Zail Singh refused permission.

The case was open and shut. India's ambassador to Sweden, Bhupat Oza, had written to the government that illegal payments had exchanged hands in the Bofors deal. Recently, Oza reiterated that in a book also. After Oza's communication, Rajiv Gandhi misled Parliament to say that no bribes had been paid. This was breach of parliamentary privilege. It was sufficient to unseat the PM from his office and Lok Sabha. Further, the Prevention of Corruption Act states that any official having knowledge of corruption but remaining silent becomes part of the conspiracy to defraud the state. That was what Rajiv Gandhi was guilty of. In the past 17 years, not once have I suggested that he or his family members received bribes. Probably Rajiv wanted to protect his colleagues or the reputation of his government.

V.P. Singh had also talked of Rajiv receiving bribes. Before the 1989 elections, he flashed a Swiss bank account number claiming that Rajiv had stashed money in it. After becoming PM, he never focused on the Oza letter, which wasn't sensational but contained adequate evidence. When I wrote about the Swedish Parliament's disclosure of Bofors agents secretly meeting with Arun Nehru in Delhi, he refused to investigate. "Let the law take its course," he told me.

No court can deny that bribes were paid in the Bofors deal and that no official has been held accountable. Last week, Sonia Gandhi reiterated that her family was innocent. Regarding Quattrocchi she said the law should take its course.

Last week V.P. Singh said he was relieved that Rajiv had been posthumously exonerated. He said the previous stand taken by various parties regarding the Bofors case should not be allowed to jeopardise the emerging coalition against communal forces. So much for a principled opposition!

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