[MJR] The Bofors scandal will never die

30 Apr,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


There it is, after quarter of a century, back to plague us. Or has it? The Bofors gun, once the symbol of corruption in government, and which apparently led to the death of one prime minister and the fall of another, is in the news again.


For those who can’t remember anything about it, there were allegations of kickbacks in the purchase of the howitzer (the word sounds better than gun) from the Swedish company Bofors. Last week, a Swedish police officer who had spoken secretly to journalist Chitra Subramaniam all those years ago, came out in the open – to Subramanian, who had covered the story extensively in the olden days.


The problem is that much worse has happened since the Bofors scandal and the grand sum of Rs64 crore – the bribe amount – seems quite teeny-weeny compared to the giant figures we’ve become used to. Also, after years and years of investigation and allegation, nothing really happened.


Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi lost an election and was also assassinated. Meanwhile Martin Ardbo, president of Bofors at the time, whose diary had many leads about money that went from one letter of the alphabet to another, mainly the mysterious middleman Q, also died and so did Win Chadha the Bofors contact for India.


Under successive governments (including non-Congress ones), the CBI floundered all over the place, as it muffed procedures, forgot to send the right letters (not of the alphabet, the other type, probably because neither the CBO nor anyone else in India could understand what a “letter rogatory” was. It’s not ‘R’, that was another alphabet in Ardbo’s diary) and couldn’t conclusively get to Q. Everyone knew who Q was – an Italian middleman who was a friend of Sonia Gandhi’s. Of course, every Italian is a friend of Sonia Gandhi’s because she is Italian. Like all Indians are friends of mine or maybe not since I am not remotely as important as Sonia Gandhi. Anyway, after some time, the CBI gave up on Q.


The story, by the way, was broken by Swedish radio in 1987 and not in India. Amitabh Bachchan was also included in the deal by the Swedish newspaper Daagens Nyheter, and not the Indian media. He successfully sued them and the CBI and everyone else, (except maybe the mysterious Q?) agrees he was not involved.


Meanwhile, everyone says that the Bofors field howitzer is a nice gun or tank or whatever it is. It was very useful in Kargil.


The Bofors  scandal we know will never die. But as time passes, the alphabet will get weaker and weaker…


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