Opp alleges cover up in Bofors case, seeks judicial probe

Both houses of Parliament disrupted
NEW DELHI, Apr 26:
Armed with fresh details in the 25-year-old Bofors scandal, an aggressive Opposition today 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 Rahul Gandhi 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 Lok Sabha 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.
He claimed that Quattrocchi was “permitted through Government connivance to escape from Delhi”.
He sought to know why “political” donations were paid to the account of AE Services, a company owned by the Italian businessman. “How can it (donations) be political in nature when it went to a businessman. We all know he worked for Snam Progetti and what happened in it. We must know what his political purpose was,” he said.
Jaitley did not name Rajiv Gandhi saying he did not intend to blame any political party or leaders.
He, however, said the fate of the case in which nobody could be nailed even after 25 years is a “serious reflection on the health of our investigating process” and stressed that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of institutions.
As Mani Shankar Aiyar (Cong) rose to counter Jaitley, Opposition members shouted him into silence asking why he is being allowed to speak when only leaders of parties in the House have been permitted to raise the matter.
Noting that Jaitley has bemoaned the fact that unsuccessful efforts were being made to unearth the truth, Aiyar said, “The reason why we could not unearth the truth is because the pursuit of truth began with a series of untruths.”
Through a point of order, Najma Heptulla (BJP) demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is Leader of the Rajya Sabha, should be present if the House wanted a discussion.
Naresh Agrawal (SP) also protested against allowing Aiyar to speak on the issue saying this amounted to partiality and demanded everybody should be given opportunity to speak.
He said there was a need to introspect “where we had gone wrong” and “what is the capacity of Indian state and all agencies of our in pursuit of truth to find out where we have gone wrong.
Jaitley said “our neigbouring country in the western border” faced earthshaking consequences for a similar situation because the Government there did not take steps.
He emphasised that the middlemen must be eliminated and probity ensured in public life.
Joining the issue, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said the issue of Bofors has “plagued” the country for more than two decades.
“It has deeply impacted the country…The issue is of probity…Even today there is a big question mark on defence deals. The whistleblower has formally said something. Government must investigate it properly,” he said.
Earlier, when the Rajya Sabha met for the day, BJP and AIADMK members displayed copies of a newspaper interview given by former Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom where he said Rajiv Gandhi did nothing to prevent the cover-up to protect Quattrocchi, who is alleged to have received pay-offs in the deal.
“Quattrocchi ko kis ney bachaya (Who saved Quattrocchi),” the Opposition members chanted.
Every time BJP members shouted “Who saved Quattrocchi”, ruling Congress members joined the chorus shouting “BJP ney bachaya (BJP saved him)”.
Aiyar said Jaitely was the Additional Solicitor General who had done paper work in the Bofors investigation case.
Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said very serious questions have been raised by the former Swiss police chief while his party members continued shouting slogans.
The uproar led to two adjournments in Question Hour. (PTI)


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