There’s nothing astoundingly enlightening about the fresh revelation on the Bofors scandal by Swedish investigator Sten Lindstorm. Much of what he says has been in the public domain in India in the form of speculation, insinuation and documented facts for the last 25 years. Every aspect of the Rs 64-crore payoff case has been dissected threadbare, discussed and hyped so much that nothing new would surprise someone following the case from its beginning in April 1987, the day Swedish Radio broke the story to the world.
Except perhaps the news of the direct involvement of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in the scandal. Unfortunately, this too has been insinuated so many times that nothing else but documented and certified proof would help.
Lindstorm says former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was not the beneficiary in the scam. It has been known in the political and legal circles for long, only no one would be open about it. He says Ottavio Quattrocchi was the recipient of the kickback money. Again, the Italian businessman’s involvement in the scandal has been public knowledge since the day it became public.
Quattrocchi’s intimate connection with the Gandhi family, courtesy Sonia, and his incredible access to the top bureaucracy then is not exactly revelations that would shock. That he escaped punishment under the Indian law because of a massive cover-up operation which was allegedly either overseen or facilitated by Rajiv Gandhi is also not new. All aspects of the case starting from Quatrrochhi’s flight from India to the defreezing of his London accounts in late 2005 to the nature of CBI’s investigation remain shrouded in suspicion. The cover-up job was shoddy, visible but legally effective.
The only thing of interest in Lindstorm’s expose is that someone sought to plant the name of actor Amitabh Bachchan as accused in the scandal. If at all the case needs to be opened, it should be to ascertain who wanted him dragged into the controversy and why. It should also focus specifically on establishing the Gandhi family’s role, if it had any, in the cover-up. The country has a right to demand the truth in the Bofors scandal. Moreover, it could finally help absolve Sonia of all suspicion of wrongdoing once for all.
But will it? The Bofors affair, from the beginning, has been more about politics than about catching the culprit. VP Singh effectively used the scandal to trounce the Congress and come to power in 1989. The BJP has been harping on the issue to target the Gandhi family. However, the truth is, if the Congress is guilty of cover up, the others parties who have come to power after 1989 have been spectacularly inept at building a strong case against any of the alleged accused.
It now turns out that Lindstrom, the whistleblower in the Bofors case, had sought permission from the then Indian government to question Sonia Gandhi but he was refused. According to Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy Lindstrom had written to then Defence Minister George Fernandes— the BJP-led NDA was in power at the time — for the permission. The decision, obviously, could not have been Fernandes’ alone. If the NDA and the BJP were serious about the truth, they could have allowed Lindstorm to interview Sonia or done a course correction in the case to make it legally strong with better evidence. They did neither.
The brouhaha over from the opposition makes little sense after the Delhi high court and the Supreme Court have given a clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi. Even if the case is reopened, there’s little hope that any party would be interested in ferreting out the truth. It would be reduced to a long drawn political tamasha once again, with each trying to reap the electoral dividend it could offer.
It serves the opposition if the Bofors scandal is left open to speculations and insinuations.