Sonia”s politics – II A G Nooran
Author: A G Noorani
Publication: The Statesman
Date: January 30, 1998
V P Singh became P M on December 2, 1989. On December 30 he made a definitive statement quoting from the records. On 22 January 1990 the CBI filed the FIR. Only four days later a Geneva court froze six bank accounts and a Zurich court froze the AES account by 30 April 1990 the Courts had received all the documents. If, like the Zurich papers, the ones in Geneva did not arrive in India till 21 January 1997 – with some yet to come – it is because frantic attempts were made in New Delhi and Geneva to prevent their arrival. Sonia Gandhi could not be unaware of them.
They began with a petition by an obscure H S Choudhary on 13 August 1990 to quash the letters rogatory. A chain of events followed – Justice M K Chawla, S famous judgment of 19. December 1990 which the Supreme Court set aside only on 27 August 1991; yet pronounced judgment only on 28 August 1992. It devoted 75 of its 92 pages to well-known cases on public interest litigation and gave an opening to “specified persons” to challenge the letter.
Win Chadha filed a petition in consequence. It was admitted by the Delhi High Court on 10 September 1991, allowed by Chief justice G C Mittal and Satpal J on 2 September 1992, and set aside by the Supreme Court on 17 December 1992. These proceedings, from August 1990 till the end of 1992 had the intended effect. Examination of letters rogatory was suspended by the Criminal Court of Appeal in Geneva on 23 January 1991. In February 1992, none other than Foreign Minister Madhavsinh Solanki tried to burke the probe by the infamous letter at Davos.
However, within a month after the Supreme” Court”s judgment, Judge Patrick Blaser rejected the Geneva account-holders” pleas. On 29 January 1993, he delivered a 51-page judgment upholding charges of bribery, fraud anon forgery. Seven appeals against it were dismissed on July 12, 1993. On July 29 the names of the appellants – the holders of the tarnished accounts – were officially revealed. They were Gopichand, Prakash and Srichand Hinduja, their jubilee Finance; Win Chadha and his Svenska Inc; and Ottavio Quattrochi. He fled India a week later in the dead of night 29-30 July 1993 as only thieves do. It was the FIR of January 1990 which produced the results.
It is unnecessary to trace the events since. Suffice it is to say that only honest judicial process in Geneva and a vigilant public opinion in India foiled New Delhi”s games. A senior Federal Police Officer said in Berne on 10 April 1996″: “The Indian Government does not seem to be serious about knowing the names of the beneficiaries in the controversial gun deal”. We had to do with a politicised CBI. On 30 June 1997 Inder Gujral contributed his mite towards its politicisation by replacing its Director Joginder Singh with R C Sharma.
Sonia fools nobody by her pretensions of concern about the delays in the probe. The most withering retort came the very next day, on 16 January from the head of Sweden”s National Bureau of Investigation, Sten Lindstrom, which the indefatigable Chitra Subramaniam reported: “Sonia Gandhi has urged the Government to- put all the papers relating to the Bofors case on the table. That”s a very good idea. I think she should do the same… The bribes have been traced to her friend and this is not something out of the blue. This is no coincidence… All information we had at that time (when the investigation was stopped) pointed to the Gandhi link. Sonia Gandhi should place her cards on the table”.
Nor will any be deluded by her plea: “I will be the happiest person if the Bofors papers are made public”. This sinister demand was made in Parliament as far back as on 30 May 1990 by P Chidambaram, Dinesh Singh, and Vasant Sathe, in order, no doubt, to scuttle the probe by breaking the Indo-Swiss Accord in Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters concluded on 20 February 1989.
Sonia Gandhi knows very well that, so far from being “the victim of malicious and slanderous propaganda in the Bofors case” Rajiv Gandhi was the prime villain in this and other scandals as well – the HDW submarines, the Westland helicopters and the Airbus A-320 planes, to mention a few. Will the Chairperson of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, which prides itself on its concern for the down-trodden, explain why her husband”s Government instructed the Indian delegation to the U N General Assembly to abstain, for the first time over, on a vote in which South Africa”s apartheid regime was to be censured? The HDW, a German concern, not only gave South Africa blue prints of the submarines it had sold to India, but also some “sensitive details” which compromised India”s security completely. This disclosure was part of its deal with South Africa, signed on 15 June 1984. It deserves detailed exposure.
Ursula Eid, a Green M P, wrote to Rajiv Gandhi about it in June 1988 but received no reply. “Sources in West Germany inferred a deal – India would not raise a stink about this and Germany would not reveal the kickbacks.
The deal was far more sordid as an article by Chitra Subramaniam and N Ram disclosed, with full documentation in The Indian Express of 21 May 1990. It is quoted in extenso: “On 22 November, 1989, under specific instructions from the Rajiv Gandhi Government, the Indian delegation to the 63rd meeting of the United Nations General Assembly abstained in a vote that retained a condemnatory reference to the West German firms and to West Germany in connection with the supply to South Africa of blueprints for the manufacture of submarines and other related military material. The abstention came on a motion related to the U N General Assembly resolution A/44/L. 34/rev.1 entitled “Military collaboration with South Africa”.
“The U N General Assembly voted on the question of retaining the reference to the two corporations and the Government of West Germany in the operative paragraph 1 of the resolution: ”l. Strongly deplores the actions of those state and organisations which directly or indirectly continue to violate the arms embargo and collaborate with South Africa in the military, nuclear, intelligence and technology fields and, it particular, Israel for providing nuclear technology and two corporations based in the Federal, Republic of Germany, for supplying blueprints for the manufacture of submarines and other related military material and calls upon Israel to terminate forthwith such hostile acts and upon the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany to honour its obligations tinder Resolution 421 (1977) by prosecuting the said corporations”.
“In the recorded vote, the verdict went in favour of retaining both the references to West Germany by 53 to 45, despite intensive lobbying by -Bonn and the Western powers. Significantly, India was among the 38 countries which abstained.
“This meant that for the first time in U N history, India failed to vote in favour of a specific anti-apartheid measure thus breaking ranks with the front-line states, other forces within the Non-Aligned Movement fighting apartheid on an uncompromising basis and socialist countries including China and the USSR.”
But how is it that so sensational a volte-face was not reported by our news agencies as it should have been on the morrow of 22 November 1989, for the nation to know? And, what do you make of a Rajiv Gandhi Who performed the sordid feat, not in the interests of the state, but in his own?
In May 1990, German media revealed that between November 1981 and July 1982, HDW made two remittances to two Swiss accounts in connection with the Indian deal – 91.4 million DM was paid into the Mundo Thea Investment Corporation, of all the places in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and 9.9 million DM to Doreland Inc, also in Monrovia. A PTI report with a Bonn, 2 April dateline quoted a report in the weekly Stern based on documents disclosing the details of payments: “This is known to the Government in India” said “a source close to HDW”. A total of Rs 112 crores was paid.
The HDW scadal was parent to the Bofors one in two ways. The former became public on 9 April 1987, a week before the Swedish broadcast, through a press release by V P Singh”s Defence Ministry. Besides, Sweden”s shipyard Kockum”s defeat at the hands of to HDW made Bofors wiser. “Persons very close to Sanjay Gandhi” told them: “Don”t be sorry you lost this deal. Try to learn from it for the next time so that you can handle your cards better.” From then on the Swedish Government and the Swedish weapons industry concluded that they must “not be so honest” as Per Wendel reported on 16 March 1990. Even by the summer of 1984 the Swedes had concluded that “The final decision (on Bofors) is in the hands of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv who both have an interest in the deal”. Anders Bjorck said this on 15 March, 1990 as Vice-President of The Swedish Parliament”s Constitutional Committee.
As heir to Indira Gandhi, Rajiv simply took over the on-going parleys on HDW and Bofors, replacing Sanjay. It was a family affair.