IF one believes the Italian press, the mysterious Mr Q, Ottavio Quattrocchi, was pretty close to Indira Gandhi.
Quattrocchi was at least as close to Indira as to her daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi and "spent long nights in silence with Indira Gandhi when the fortunes of the family had faded", the prestigious Italian weekly Epoca reported in 1991 in an article on Sonia's influence in India.
The friendship between Quattrocchi and the Gandhi family was more than narrowly opportunistic, the report suggests. Quattrocchi stood by Indira when she was down and out in 1977. But a year after her re-election, she turned at least one contract around in favour of Snamprogetti, a report in another influential Italian weekly Panorama says.
Indira was the first to be drawn into controversy over contracts to Snam, Panorama reports. The allegations, it says, began in 1981 when she abrogated a fertiliser contract with the American firm Braun near Mumbai in favour of the Danish firm Topsoe, a subsidiary of Snam Progetti. The report does not go into whether it was a personal bond or project merit that brought the contract to Snam through Quattrocchi, its representative in India for most of his working life.
Some of the most prestigious and important projects to Snam came well before Rajiv Gandhi came to power, Quattrocchi is quoted as saying. But it was not just the Indira Gandhi government that awarded contracts to Snam-progetti, the Panorama report says. It quotes Quattrocchi as saying that the Janata regime which stormed to power in 1977 did the same. "At that time no one talked of the Italian connection." Quattrocchi seems to have been as much an enigma in Italy as he was in India. He rarely spoke publicly, but when he did, he talked of his friendship with Sonia quite candidly. "We got to know Sonia at Lodhi Park in Delhi in 1968," Quattrocchi was quoted as saying in Panorama. "We became friends. Is this something we should be criticised for?" Sonia evidently became particularly close to Quattrocchi's wife Maria. He was defending himself against charges that Snamprogetti had been favoured because of the Italian (Sonia) connection. "Our group has been present in India for more than 30 years," he is quoted as saying in a report published in 1988. "We managed to be successful because we have always been competitive, I would say highly competitive." India, says Quattrocchi, "is only one part and not even the most important part of our international activity".
Through the '80s there was much in the Italian media about Sonia and her Italian friends like Quattrocchi and Ceasare Rossi. "It was he (Quattrocchi) who made Eni (the parent company of Snamprogetti) possible in India," Epoca reports. "It is he who is considered the Ambassador of Made in Italy in India."