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Narasimha Rao’s In The Dock, Finally

After managing to stall for so long, the former PM makes a courtroom appearance in the St Kitts forgery case. Coming up next: the Lakhubhai Pathak cheating and JMM payoff cases

Narasimha Rao’s In The Dock, Finally
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

WHITE was the dominant colour as one of the darkest moments in contemporary Indian polity—the sight of the 10th prime minister appearing to plead for bail in a forgery case—unfolded at 9.49 am on October 30 at the Vigyan Bhavan annexe in New Delhi. From the heavily-bulletproofed Ambassador which ferried P.V. Narasimha Rao from his residence to the angavastram in which Rao was attired, everything was white.

 Rao was quickly surrounded by a posse of SPG commandos as cameras went into a flurry of action around him. As he strode in—head bowed, pout in place—to the court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate (CMM) Prem Kumar and occupied a corner chair to hear the fate of his bail plea in the St Kitts case, it was clear the curtains had gone up on one of the most extraordinary scenes in the history of Indian jurisprudence.

Elsewhere in the building was V.P. Singh, who had come to depose before the Jain Commission (see box). The Mandal messiah was the original target of the St Kitts forgery. Documents seeking to establish that his son, Ajeya, held secret bank accounts was what had landed Rao in court.

V.P. Singh took one look at the security at the venue and at the bodyguards around Rao and said with trademark sarcasm: "There are two former prime ministers here. You can judge for yourself who is the real ex-PM and who is the dummy ex-PM."

Inside, the difference was less palpable. Prem Kumar, the judge whose jurisdiction Rao’s counsel Kapil Sibal had questioned in the Lakhubhai Pathak case, heard the arguments from both sides on the bail applications, as if no such thing had happened.

The CBI had told the Supreme Court this year that Rao had asked an Indian consulate officer in New York to attest photocopies of the documents which were then used against Singh. But Rao’s counsel R.K. Anand contended last week that the ex-prime minister was reluctant to do so until he got a call from R.K. Dhawan.

Rao maintained a stoic silence, keeping his head down and eyes closed most of the time. He did not exchange a glance with Chandraswami, his friend of 25 years standing, who was sitting a row ahead of him. When the godman’s aide, Kailashnath Agarwal alias ‘Mamaji’ greeted Rao, the ex-prime minister reluctantly nodded in response.

 

Nor did Rao acknowledge the presence of the horde of Congressmen in the visitors’ gallery: Ghulam Nabi Azad, Salman Khu-rsheed, V.C. Shukla, Pranab Mukherjee, Jitendra Prasada, Aslam Sher Khan, Jagannath Mishra, M.S. Bitta, Suresh Kalmadi and S.S. Ahulwalia.

Though Sibal had expressed the fear that Rao would be arrested if he appeared in court in the Lakhbubhai case, no such misfortune befell the former prime minister in the St Kitts case on October 30. After hearing the arguments of all four—Rao, Chandraswami, Mamaji and Enforcement official K.L.Verma—the CMM reserved his order.

Clearly, Rao is living by the day. The fate of his bail plea in the St Kitts case will be known on November 5. The $100,000 Lakhubhai case will come up for hearing on November 6. And Rao has been served summons to appear before yet another court on November 13 in the Rs 3.5 crore Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) bribery case.

It’s the last of the three cases that seems especially sticky for the 75-year-old Congress leader in his battle for politicial survival. On October 29, Rao had been named prime accused in the JMM case for organising the payoffs to Jharkhand MPs to save his government in July 1993.

According to the chargesheet, CBI investigations revealed that Narasimha Rao, Satish Sharma, Buta Singh, Suraj Mandal, Shibu Soren, Simon Marandi, Shailendra Mahto and other unknown persons had entered into a criminal conspiracy to defeat the no-confidence motion against the then Congress government. "Four JMM MPs Suraj Man-dal, Shibu Soren, Shailendra Mahto and Simon Marandi accepted illegal gratification to vote against the motion and because of their votes and other votes, the government survived," the chargesheet says. Aptly, Sharma is named second accused (see box). The chargesheet in the JMM case builds up an interesting chronology of payoffs offered to the MPs:  Party hosted by Satish Sharma at his residence. Suitcases brought in a Maruti Gypsy from his farm house.

July 25: Satish Sharma visited Rao’s residence in the morning. A little later, Buta Singh arrived.

July 26: Buta Singh approached the JMM MPs for securing their votes to defeat the no-confidence motion. The same night the MPs had a meeting with Buta Singh at his residence and then the five of them met with Rao at 7, Race Course Road. (Singh had met Rao on July 15 and 25 as well.) According to the CBI, Singh admitted on the floor of the Lok Sabha on February 28 this year that he had gone to Rao’s house with the four JMM MPs.

July 27: The JMM MPs had another meeting with Buta Singh at night. <   Voting on no-confidence takes place. Speaker declares the division and announces that the no-confidence motion is defeated. The scores: 251 ayes to 265 nos.

The chargesheet notes: "The result of the division of votes indicated the MPs who voted for and against the motion have been incorporated in the government publication of Lok Sabha debates dated July 28. Accused Soren, Marandi, Mandal and Mahto of the JMM, and seven MPs namely Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, Ram Saran Yadav, Abhey Pratap Singh, G.C. Munda (now deceased), Haji Ghulam Mohammed, Roshan Lal and Anadi Charan Das, who broke away from the Janata Dal on the eve of the voting, were among those who voted against the motion."

July 29: At about 8 am, four unknown persons came to the residence of Mandal in cars. With the help of Mandal’s servant Dara Rawani, they unloaded suitcases which they locked inside a room. The keys were kept by Suraj Mandal.

July 30: Mandal received three gunny sacks and one suitcase in the morning. These were seen lying in the verandah by Dara Rawani. In the forenoon, the same day, Marandi came to Mandal’s house and took the sacks and the suitcase. They were picked up by his driver Sanjay. After leaving Mandal’s house, Marandi reached the residence of Mahto. The two then went to the residence of R.K. Jaitley (an old acquaintance). Here the sacks and the suitcase were unloaded and taken to the flat of Jaitley by Balkishan, his employee. Mahto and Marandi unloaded the currency notes contained in the three sacks and the suitcase, and after counting the cash, transferred it to four suitcases. Around 3.30 pm, they left Jaitley’s flat. At 9 pm, the same day, Shibu Soren collected a suitcase and a bag from Mandal’s house which he took to his residence at 17, Gurdwara Rakabganj Marg.

July 31: Simon Marandi went to Jaitley and picked up Shailendra Mahto along with the two suitcases and both of them went to Soren’s place. According to the CBI, the entire operation lasted a week. So how was the bank account cracked? This, says the agency was discovered when Sushil Kumar, a chartered accountant friend of Mandal, offered to introduce Mandal to his bank manager friend at the Punjab National Bank (PNB) branch at Sarojini Nagar in the capital.

The savings bank account number has been identified as 17108. When asked by Sushil Kumar why there was so much money, the CBI quotes Mandal as telling him: "Kya tum itne seedhe sade ho ki tumhe pata nahin ki paisa PM se aaya hai’ (are you so innocent that you do not know that the money has come from the PM?)"

While this was going on, the Jharkhand MPs apparently did not lose sight of their political perspective. They wanted a categorical assurance on a separate Jharkhand state. Rao told them that since it would take some time, a beginning could be made. "Buta Singh ji aur Suraj Mandal ji se jo baat hui hai, vo puri kee jayegi (whatever has transpired between Buta and Suraj would be followed up)," Rao is supposed to have told the JMM MPs.

Investigators are also looking closely at the investments made by the tribal leaders. Apart from the PNB account, it has been discovered that Mandal made huge deposits in other bank accounts as well. He opened a savings bank account (2780) in Oriental Bank of Commerce, Hauz Khas, on July 21, 1995 and deposited Rs 9 lakh, Rs 8 lakh, Rs 6 lakh and Rs 3.96 lakh on July 26 and 27, and December 15 and 16, 1995, respectively.

On February 27, 1996, Mandal obtained a pay order for Rs 27 lakh in favour of the post master, Lodhi Road post office, New Delhi, for purchasing Kisan Vikas Patras (KVP) in the name of his son Vinod Kumar, and opened another savings bank account number 15593, at the Syndicate Bank at its Khan Market branch. Mandal also had fixed deposits in the same bank but they were prematurely closed and more KVPs were purchased in the name of the other son Rajendra Kumar.

To cover up the unusually high deposits, the JMM members along with their partymen prepared "forged and fabricated" minutes of a meeting of the Central Executive Committee purportedly held on July 11, 1993 which ‘authorised’ them to deposit party funds in their own names. To cover up the withdrawals from the banks, a false resolution was shown to have been passed by the executive committee autho-rising them to avail loans from the party fund at the rate of two per cent per annum.

To further cover their tracks, the four JMM MPs got printed donation coupons ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 5,000 to show that the money was collected as part of a donation drive for the party. The CBI has already conducted polygraphic tests on Mandal and Shibu Soren in which the two JMM MPs were found to be lying through their teeth. The agency has another two months to submit their final report. The question is: are they going to carry out polygraphic tests on Rao as well? 

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