The former PM Vishwanath Pratap Singh has released his memoirs ?Manzil Se Zyada Safar (Beyond Destination)?. The book has been lapped up and has received a totally undeserved coverage, due to some stray remarks here and there, on the dead and alive politicians. It must be said to his credit for once having admitted or said or remarked, I do not remember, that he was a disaster or would be a disaster as a Prime Minister. Every political party has found fault, for the material or comments, which are unpalatable to it.
Congress has taken strong exception to his assertion in the book, that the Rajiv Gandhi government had rebuffed an offer by the manufacturers of Bofors to reveal the identity of the Indian middlemen whom they had bribed in order to swing the howitzers deal. It is, no political party'scase that no kickbacks were paid in Bofors case. Swiss papers received by the CBI during my tenure and later on, conclusively prove about the payments to Quattrocchi?s, company, as well as to others. The papers received from Switzerland, were filed in Delhi court. Dome accused took advantage that they were not the original, but photocopies and got the benefit of doubt. VP Singh had won the 1990 elections, only on the slogans that ?Bofors Ke Dal Mey Kucch Kala Hai?, which was later changed to ?Sari Dal Hi Kali Hai?.
In the report of Joint Parliamentary Committee, Shri Thulholm, Chairman of Nobel Industries had stated that so far as he was aware, payments had been made to Indians or to an Indian company in connection with the contract. Shri Thulholm had also stated that he could not guarantee that bribes had not been paid. Bofors being a subsidiary of Nobel Industries, which supplied Bofors guns to India, this statement of Shri Thulholm is self explanatory. While I am no defender of VP Singh, the following statement of Arun Singh, then Minister of State, in the Ministry of Defence told this to the CBI; ?Shri Vohra informed the Cabinet Committee On Political Affairs (CCPA), as to how he put pressure on the Vice President of Bofors to give out the names of recipients of bribes and managed to get a reply them that the President of Bofors would fly to India on the following Monday with the details of the recipients and bribes etc. The members at the meeting were S/Sh. Buta Singh, N. D. Tiwari, P. Shiv Shankar and probably Shri P. V. Narasima Rao also. Some of those members present like Shri Buta Singh etc. were very vocal and questioned the proprietary of taking a decision to summon the Bofors chief. It is possible they were acting in such a fashion based on the mood of the PM. Immediately the PM also expressed his anger and displeasure at Vohra and demanded to know from Vohra on what basis and whose authority he had initiated this matter to discuss with A. B. Bofors. To the best of Arun Singh'srecollection, he told the PM that Vohra was acting under his instructions?.
Some of the Members of the CCPA present there felt that this action by Arun Singh in the MOD was unwarranted, given the fact that it was already decided that JPC would be set up to enquire into the matter. However, he had a strong view and continues to have the same view that in matters like this, the Executive should get the required details and then submit it to the Parliamentary Committee. Apparently there was a difference of view between him and these members of CCPA. The PM agreed with his fellow Members of the CCPA. The meeting concluded with the instructions that a future investigation in this matter would be under the JPC? Instructions were issued to inform the President of Bofors, not to come until summoned by the JPC and MOD was not to act on the recommendation of Mr. Parasaran. Mr. Vohra was asked to ensure that Bofors team which would start on 4th July, 1987 should be stopped forthwith from coming to India until summoned by the JPC.
Vohra in his own statement to the CBI, which along with others statement is a public document, which has been filed in the court said; ?On Saturday July 4, 1987 Shri Rajiv Gandhi returned from Moscow. He wanted a CCPA meeting at his residence, 7 Race Course Road, New Delhi. He also wanted a summary report on Bofors. I and Mr Banerjee prepared the top secret report and sent it to the Defence Ministry and PMO. At the meeting we were told not to pursue Bofors any more. I was told by Shri Rajiv Gandhi himself to leave the meeting and contact the Bofors team which was supposed to come the following Monday and to stop them. When I went to Mr. George's(private Secretary to PM) room, I found many people there, so I went back to my office i.e. South Block where I met Banerjee, who was waiting for me, and contacted the Bofors person at Hotel Maurya Sheraton and informed him to stop the team from coming. But he informed that the time was already up and they had already left for the airport and they would have reached the airport. They were coming via. Frankfurt. Since the PM desired that they should be stopped, I insisted that he should contact them somehow and stop the trip. He informed later that he had contacted them at the airport and they had called off the trip a advised by us?.
Martin Ardbo on being interviewed by Press said as under; ?Asked whether he should not answer for his guilt in violating the unequivocal gentleman'sagreement between Rajiv Gandhi and Olof Palme, then Prime Ministers respectively of India and Sweden, that no middlemen would be involved in the howitzer deal, Ardbo fumed: What is guilt or innocence? The Indians know precisely who have been paid the money and how much and where. All this is unnecessary play acting. I cannot understand why they are digging up this matter again. It happened so long ago and should stay buried?. Incidentally in no papers, received by the CBI, the names of either Rajiv Gandhi or any of his family members are mentioned, as the recipients of the kick back. VP Singh book is the best illustration, so far, as Bofors is concerned, that he is ?willing to wound, but afraid to strike? He and other parties, encashed on Bofors, when it suited them. The Ghost of Bofors, which has been almost buried, is resurrected, depending upon who is using what brush, for tarnishing whom. Other portions like Sonia Gandhi not becoming the Prime Minister and for what reason or whether Vajpayee really wanted to leave BJP can be best commented by those actors who are alive. On the whole, Shri V.P. Singh had tried to make a master stroke, by collecting road side gossips, bits of conversations with various people, from different parties from time to time and converted them into his memoirs. Oscar Levant said cynically of a politician ?He?ll double-cross that bridge when he comes to it?
The major trouble with our country is that almost all politicians believe, with a conviction based on their experience, that you can fool all of the people all of the time.
(The writer is a former Director, CBI, India and can be contacted at [email protected])