The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government made all efforts to bring the alleged Bofors scam guilty to the book, but the successive Congress-led governments tried to “kill” the case, Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley tells Karan Thapar on CNN-IBN’s Devil’s Advocate show. He says the case was taken to its logical conclusion and the CBI, which was probing it, acted independently of the government during the NDA regime from 1998 to 2004. Edited excerpts:
Your colleague in the Lok Sabha, Jaswant Singh, has demanded a judicial commission into the Bofors affair. As a former law minister, do you believe a judicial commission is a fitting and appropriate way of enquiring into a matter a high court has closed?
There are possible arguments that there will be difficulty. I quite concede on that. But, at the same time, there must be a fair assessment of what went wrong — by a committee, a Parliamentary committee, or an administrative committee of the government. I think this was the intention behind what Jaswant Singh suggested.
In other words, what we need is an enquiry that shows lapses, and, if possible, also suggests the responsibility for those lapses on individuals or groups?
I think at least the truth must not be distorted somewhere.
The important thing is to get to the truth?
I believe the pursuit of truth is the most important aspect.
Alright, in getting at the truth, let’s begin with Sonia Gandhi. Sten Lindstrom, the whistleblower, has said, “Sonia Gandhi must be questioned, I know what I am saying.” Do you agree with him?
Well, he must be having some material on the basis of which he has said so. As far as the Indian system is concerned, it proceeds on the basis of that. When investigations are in progress, investigators reach a conclusion and facts come before them, they are entitled to question a person who is in possession of an information that could help find out the truth.
In your eyes, is Sonia Gandhi in that position? Are we entitled to question her?
I would say, it would entirely depend on the kind of information the Central Bureau of Investigation had. CBI’s case diaries and record would disclose it. It would depend on that and the crucial question would be: In swinging the contract, where did Mr Quattrocchi draw his influence from?
Did that influence come from Sonia Gandhi? That’s a critical question.
CBI records and the nature of the investigation would answer that question.
Your colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad — has gone on record to say Sonia Gandhi has a lot of explaining to do. If she has explaining to do...
Why Ravi Shankar? Even I have said this in the past.
If you said it, and stand by it, does she need to be questioned?
I have said this in the past too. There is one aspect making a statement to the media — where did Mr Quattrocchi draw his influence from? If you go though the fact that have come out, it is now almost established on record, available with CBI, that he obviously was successful in swinging the contract. He was not an official middleman, he got paid. Why did he get paid and where did he draw his influence from? Somebody has to answer that.
Absolutely, and that somebody you suggest is Sonia Gandhi. But, the point is, during the six years of BJP rule (from 1998 to 2004), CBI didn’t make any effort to question her?
Your question is based on complete ignorance. If CBI made any substantial progress, it was during that period.
But they didn’t question her; that’s the point?
Questioning her is one aspect, but CBI made huge progress in establishing the truth and I owe it to you, since you asked this question, to tell you what progress CBI made.
But the question I asked you was that during the six years when you were in power, CBI didn’t question her even once. They made no effort to do so...
That’s the discretion CBI has to exercise — if it has the material to question, it would question; if it doesn’t have the material, it won’t.
Can I quote Sten Lindstrom? He said: “It can’t be a coincidence that Quattrocchi gets the money in this way; there must be some connection. She can explain it someway, and it will be very helpful in some way.”
There is a common-sense presumption that Quattrocchi drove strength from some place, since he got the money in a contract where he was not the middleman. But, whether or not CBI reached a conclusion on the basis of which it needed to cross-examine somebody is a question CBI itself is better suited to answer; its record and diaries will show.
Just a moment... you are either saying CBI failed to do what it should have, or it didn’t reach the position where it needed to reach to do what it should have?
I am not aware of the records, so I am not going to speculate on that.
You began by saying you agreed with Prasad that she had explaining to do. If she has explaining to do, she should have been questioned, if she wasn’t questioned...
It’s explaining that the entire Congress leadership has to do — as to where and why did Quattrocchi draw this influence from in order to swing the contract. We are talking in terms of legally admissible evidence; you can’t ask me a question that CBI should be answering.
If there is a reason to question her and she wasn’t questioned, that’s dereliction. And if she wasn’t questioned because there was no case against her, you can’t say she has explaining to do...
That’s a very good question, but that’s a question that CBI should be asked, not I.
People say there was a secret understating between BJP and Congress on not to question Sonia Gandhi.
I think it’s rubbish, there is no question of that. CBI had full freedom during the NDA period to proceed with the case in the manner it considered the best, and it did its job.
I raised this question because George Fernandes told this channel on March 11, 2007, that he wanted to probe Bofors and he was told by Mr Vajpayee not to do so. His exact words were: “Vajpayee told me not to touch this.”
The investigation was not with the defence ministry, it was with CBI. When in 1998 Vajpayee became the prime minister, there was an FIR, there was Letter Rogatory, there were details of accounts, there were documents. CBI concluded the investigation. In 1999, it filed the chargesheet, the accused were prosecuted and charges were framed in court. The entire due process of the law was being carried out and, so, it is not for a minister... it’s for CBI to investigate the case. And, CBI was doing it.
...except for the fact that you were the law minister for much of this time... and except for the fact that one critical person who should have been questioned was never questioned. Let me again quote Sten Lindstrom. He says: “It has always amazed, and it continues to...”
I don’t think we in India make statements to that effect where politicians decide who CBI should question.
Just a moment... let me finish quoting Sten Lindstrom; he says: “It has always amazed and it continues to amaze me as to why Indian investigators didn’t take the obvious step of questioning her.”
Obviously, I think Lindstrom has a lot of information on the basis of which he says so. If that information is available with CBI, he is probably right. But that’s the question which has to be addressed to CBI.
A second aberration in the way BJP handles Bofors arises from something you said in Parliament this Thursday. You said, and I quite: “In 2004, one judgment said no case is made out, it wasn’t even appealed against and we gave the whole burial to the case.” But, in fact, the government that should have appealed and refused to do so, was yours, and you were its law minister.
Let’s be correct on the dates.
The date is February 4, 2004...
Yes, I know. CBI got the copy of the judgment, it processed the copy, it recommended the filing of the appeal, and the government law officers advised them to file the appeal. CBI, because of court vacations and the pending elections, was not able to file the appeal. The government changed. The new government overruled the opinion and said appeal should not be filed.
The Delhi HC judgment of February 4, 2004, had to be appealed against within 90 days Those 90 days lapsed on May 4 and you were in power till after May 20. It was your responsibility to do so.
You are absolutely mistaken. It’s 90 days from the date you obtain a copy of the judgment, and, therefore, the period was to expire sometime in June. CBI prepared its case for an appeal and got all the opinions. But the government changed and it was the Congress government that took a decision not to file an appeal.