By A. Surya Prakash
Some recent revelations about certain events pertaining to defence purchases and national security when Rajiv Gandhi was India'sPrime Minister, should, in my view, put citizens on high alert in regard to the possible dangers in allowing naturalised citizens to hold constitutional offices.
The most disturbing revelation is the one made by B.G. Desh-mukh, a distinguished civil servant who was the Cabinet Secretary when Rajiv Gandhi was Prime Minister. In his book A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back, Deshmukh refers to a bizarre situation when he found Rajiv Gandhi wanting the Special Protection Group (SPG) to be trained in Italy and that too by persons unrelated to VIP security. Deshmukh'snarration of this episode is fully corroborated by B. Raman, a former Additional Director, RAW, who had referred to this unpleasant event in an article he wrote in The Statesman, six years ago.
In a nutshell, the story as narrated by these two citizens who held senior positions in the Union Government, runs as follows: All of a sudden, Rajiv Gandhi suggested that the SPG be sent to Italy for training even though the Italians have never been known for any specialisa-tion in VIP security. Rajiv wanted the operation, which was to cost a quarter of a million US dollars, to be funded from RAW'ssecret funds. Strangely, though it concerned the security of the Prime Minister, the arrangement was not with the Italian government or a governmental security agency.
Our SPG personnel were to be trained by some private agency. The deal had been arranged by a middleman who turned out to be Sonia Gandhi'ssister'shusband-a man called Walter Vinci. When Deshmukh and Raman protested, their objections were brushed aside and the deal was put through. Walter Vinci came to India, stayed in the Prime Minister'shouse, and, according to SPG officials, had the temerity to scold and abuse them.
This is what Deshmukh himself has to say about the incident: “That the PM”s house had access to funds from abroad, I became aware in a very curious way?one of the security officers at 7, Race Course Road said one or two of them would be going to Italy for special training. I was rather upset as I had neither seen nor cleared the proposal? Rajiv wanted payments to be made from RAW'ssecret funds to Sonia Gandhi'sItalian brother-in-law, a businessman, to train our SPG personnel?”
The man who was entrusted with the job of handing over a quarter million dollars to the brother-in-law was S.E. Joshi, the chief of RAW. But Joshi had a major problem on his hands. Though it was earlier worked out that the Italian would collect the booty from the Geneva office of RAW, he told Joshi that he should deliver the agreed sum in Italian currency in Italy itself. The head of RAW told the Cabinet Secretary that it was inappropriate for the head of RAW to carry suitcases full of Italian currency half way across the world. It could lead to unforeseen complications.
Deshmukh says, he told Rajiv Gandhi that the arrangement suggested was not acceptable. “He (Rajiv Gandhi) flushed and told me to forget the whole affair. Later, I learnt that the PM'shouse was asked to be more discreet with me ? I also realised that in the Mughal-darbar-like functioning of the Gandhis, I had committed the cardinal sin of cross-checking with the king himself?”
This is fully corroborated by B. Raman, who was Additional Director of RAW at that time. In his article in The Statesman six years ago he had said: “Many intelligence officials were uncomfortable with Rajiv Gandhi'suncritical admiration for the Italian security set-up. It was difficult to convince him that the Indian security set-up had nothing much to learn from its Italian counterpart. One had an uneasy feeling that he was letting his love and affection for his Italy-born wife affect his judgement of the capabilities of Italy and his trust in them.”
Raman then refers to this specific incident when he says: “Rajiv Gandhi, in his over keenness to benefit from Italy'ssecurity expertise, even got Sonia Gandhi'sbusinessman brother-in-law associated with a training project and tried to use me, much to my discomfort, as a channel of communication with her Italian brother-in-law. Somehow I had to wriggle out of it. Won”t one face such problems in a much more intense form under Mrs Sonia Gandhi?”
Raman has raised an extremely pertinent point. It is obvious that all this happened because of Rajiv'sItalian connection that came through his wife, Sonia Gandhi. It is also obvious that the working of the SPG, which handles the sensitive task of protecting India'sPrime Minister, stood compromised. If this is what Sonia Gandhi can do as wife of the Prime Minister, one can imagine what she would be up to if she were to be Prime Minister herself.
The other issue is the latest bombshell from Sweden. Sten Lindstrom, the Swedish police officer who investigated the Bofors payoffs, has said that Sonia Gandhi must be questioned by the Central Bureau of Investigation about her links with Ottavio Quattrocchi. Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who got access to the Prime Minister'shousehold because of his friend-ship with Sonia Gandhi, was paid $ 7.3 million by Bofors when we purchased field guns for our Army from that company. The money was paid into two Swiss accounts operated by Ottavio and Maria Quattrocchi. Why did Bofors pay such a hefty sum to the Quattrocchis, the close friends of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi? Sonia must answer this question. This is another instance of her involvement in a matter concerning our national security. To see it in any other way is to invite more trouble.
Our SPG personnel were to be trained by some private agency. The deal had been arranged by a middleman who turned out to be Sonia Gandhi'ssister'shusband-a man called Walter Vinci.