Bofors scandal: Congress, Opposition clash over fresh revelations
Armed with fresh details in the 25-year-old Bofors scandal, an aggressive Opposition on Thursday disrupted Parliament, alleging "cover up" and demanding a new probe by a judicial commission.
Opposition members, particularly those from BJP and Left, raked up the issue in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, saying the Bofors chapter was not closed yet, leading to clashes with ruling members and affecting pre-lunch sittings severely.
In the Lok Sabha, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh raised the issue, saying it was "a saga of continuing corruption" and a "thorn" which needed to be removed. He demanded setting up of a judicial commission to probe the issue even as he admitted to failure of the NDA government, in which he was External Affairs Minister, to get accused Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi extradited to India.
Without naming Rajiv Gandhi, who had faced the allegations of pay-offs in the 155 MM gun deal in 1986, Singh said the Congress would be "feeling the absence" of the late Prime Minister and a "promising" individual in the polity was lost.
As UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress General Secretary RahulGandhi watched, Singh said the party should get into the causes of the mistake because of which it paid a heavy political price.
CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia also demanded reopening of the case, institution of an independent inquiry and extradition of Quattrocchi.
In the Rajya Sabha, which saw three adjournments, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley alleged that "there were repeated efforts to cover up" the scandal but refrained from naming any party or individual. "There were repeated efforts to cover up. The pace of investigation varied with the colour of the political government in power...we gave a whole burial to the case," Jaitley said. "....the fact is clear. Somebody got the contract and somebody got the kickback....this man (Quattrocchi) is so powerful. Entire Indian state appeared so helpless....this is a textbook illustration of fraud," Jaitley said.
Congress members countered the allegations in both the Houses leading to clashes. "The correct weapon was acquired, it was acquired in a wrong manner .... You (Congress) have paid, we have paid. The nation continues to pay," said Jaswant Singh. "Till you don't remove this thorn, poison will continue to spread. ... Whatever is happening in the defence sector today is because of this episode. It is a saga of continuing corruption. In matters of corruption, there is no closure," he said. Admitting that the NDA had failed to get Quattrocchi extradited after his arrest in Malaysia, Singh said, "Many will say why did you not do it. You have failed, we have failed. But don't consider our failure as your success." Observing that it gave him "no delight" to raise this issue, he said, "25 years have passed but the storm of Bofors refuses to subside and the guns continue to blaze." Reminding Congress about the political cost, he said, the reason behind Congress being reduced from its "historic" victory of 404 seats in LokSabha in 1984 to 114 in the next elections was Bofors pay-offs deal. Singh posed a series of questions on the matter and asked why the Indian investigating teams which went to Sweden did not meet their Swedish counterparts probing the matter.
Alleging political designs behind BJP raking up the Bofors issue, Congress on Thursday accused the opposition party of levelling 'baseless and irresponsible' allegations as Lok Sabha elections are approaching. "Whenever Lok Sabha elections are near, such issues are raised.
Unfortunately a trend of levelling irresponsible allegations has begun in the country. Oppostion especially BJP and its outfits are responsible for it, party General Secretary Janardan Dwivedi said. "They are in a haste to come to power. They had great difficulty in living without power for years when UPA-1 came and now they are finding it increasingly difficult with the advent of UPA-II. They should develop the habit of accepting the decisions of people and the courts," he said.
Attacking senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who raised the issue in the Rajya Sabha, Dwivedi said that the BJP leader was the Law Minister in the NDA government when the Delhi High Court had in its judgement in February 2004 stated that not even an ounce of evidence of graft was found in the case. "Jaitley was the Law Minister then. The NDA government was in power. Why did it not appeal against the judgement? LK Advani was the Home Minister for six years. Why did he did not expedite the probe and punish the guilty," Dwivedi said.
Attacking Jaitley, who was also the Additional Solicitor General during the VP Singh government, Dwivedi said, "You are also a prosecutor, a former Law Minister and now also want to give judgements on court verdicts. When you give judgement, you should also include the period when you ruled the country." The senior Congress leader also recalled that late Prime Minister VP Singh also used to say that he knew about the Swiss Bank account number in which the kickback money was deposited but never disclosed it.
Dwivedi found it unfortunate that a statement by a retired policeman of another country is being given such significance that answers are being sought on it in Parliament. "When you level an allegation against somebody or praise him there should be some justification," he said, arguing that so far there was no evidence to prove anything against the late Prime Minister in the matter. "Did the opinion of somebody sitting in another country become so important that the entire country gets involved in it. I feel ashamed of taking even his name," he said, wondering how long the Opposition will be 'misleading' the people and the media on it. Dwivedi made an unscheduled appearance at the party press briefing today while spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary left the floor for him.
Earlier in the Rajya Sabhha, the Opposition had not allowed party leader Mani Shankar Aiyar to speak on the issue and there was a view that Congress point of view could not be put across in the din. Party leaders feel that the Opposition will stick to the issue and, hence, there is a need to aggressively counter it.
- Asian Tribune –