Tamils - a Trans State Nation..

"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
-
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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India & the Struggle for Tamil Eelam

Who killed Olof Palme and Rajiv Gandhi? 
Pranay Gupte and Rahul Singh - Earth Times News Service 
12 August 1997

 [see also Rajiv Gandhi's Assassination: Transnational Connections]



Joginder Singh, India's top cop, landed at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport at 4 o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, July 1, after a meeting with Interpol officials in France. No sooner had he deplaned from his Air India flight, Singh was besieged by a mob of journalists who wanted his reaction to the news that Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral had dismissed Singh as Director of the powerful Central Bureau of Investigation. That meant Singh would no longer be able to pursue the $1.3 billion Bofors 155mm howitzer scandal, a case in which he had named five men and women on charges of receiving $40 million in bribes, and the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of being a co-conspirator.

 "I had no inkling that this would happen," Singh said in an exclusive interview. "I thought that I was doing my job by the book. I have spent 36 years in government service, and I have always conducted my investigations on the basis of evidence. I do not engage in witch hunts. And I don't do favors for politicians or anyone else. So although I had no indication that my job would be taken away from me, I had no choice but to take it in stride."

 That kind of straight talk has now landed Singh a new job--handling pension payments in India's Home Ministry. To add insult to injury, Singh's replacement was Ramesh Chandra Sharma, who headed the Bofors inquiry for five years starting in 1991 and was widely believed to have made little progress on the investigation. 

When Joginder Singh became CBI chief last year, he removed Sharma from the Bofors case and took charge himself. Among those scheduled to be questioned in August by the CBI: Sonia Gandhi. Joginder Singh says that he had "given full freedom" to his staff to "question anyone necessary" in the Bofors case. In New Delhi, meanwhile, Gujral said at first Singh was being removed for "incompetence." The government then said that Gujral was less than pleased with Singh's handling of a $271 million fodder scandal in which Singh was about to arrest a key Gujral ally, a regional politician named Laloo Prasad Yadav, whose support was supposedly essential to the survival of Gujral fragile 13-party national coalition. On July 5, Yadav returned Gujral's favor by splitting from his Janata Dal and forming a separate party, although he declared that the new party would continue backing Gujral's coalition. 

One of Sharma's first statements was that notwithstanding Singh's earlier disclosures about Bofors and his pursuit of Yadav--the chief minister of Bihar state--no politicians implicated in cases pursued by the CBI would be arrested. Within the CBI itself, there was incredulity Gujral had selected Sharma, since at least three other officials had higher seniority than him. Almost no one believed Gujral's denigration of Singh's performance. There is a widespread perception that his government was trying to please Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, who now controls the Congress Party. 

Although the Congress is not part of Gujral's minority coalition, Sonia's support is key to Gujral's survival. Ever since Joginder Singh disclosed that the CBI filed its charges and named her late husband in the Bofors scandal, Sonia has been reported to privately pressure Gujral into quashing the investigation. Gujral can ill afford a sulking Sonia. Former Indian prime minister V. P. Singh--who initiated the first Bofors inquiry in 1989 and who is now undergoing treatment for blood cancer in London--says he is "very concerned" about the developments. Adds Yeshwant Sinha, another parliamentarian: "The transfer of Joginder Singh was essentially a political transfer to keep Laloo Prasad Yadav in good humor. And the choice of R. C. Sharma is politically convenient for the Congress, which is facing the heat in Bofors. The timing of the transfer makes the whole thing even more suspect." 

The timing is particularly peculiar because the Swiss government is scheduled to transfer more Bofors documents to the Indian government within the next few days. Joginder Singh's removal from the case effectively means that Gujral has decided not to prosecute those charged so far. The new set of Swiss documents, which complement some 500 documents sent by the Swiss back in January, are said to offer unprecedented details about the specific bank accounts into which the Bofors kickbacks were paid. The new documents also are reported to offer clues about the whereabouts of some of $210 million that was also allegedly paid by Bofors to obtain India's contract for 410 howitzers. 

"Let's not forget that the Bofors scandal surfaced despite the massive cover-up on the part of the Indian and Swedish governments," said Chitra Subramaniam, the Geneva-based investigators whose exposes blew open the Bofors story. "The very fact that successive governments have tried to scuttle this investigation is indicative of what Bofors must mean to all of them." And in Stockholm, Bo G. Andersson of Dagens Nyheter, who also documented the money trail of the Bofors case, said he was concerned that political pressures would now indefinitely postpone prosecution in the case "when all the hard evidence has been carefully laid out." 

Andersson says what also concerns him is that the investigation into Sweden's murdered Prime Minister Olof Palme had virtually ground to a halt; it was Palme who cooked up the Bofors deal with Rajiv. Joginder Singh's charge that Rajiv Gandhi was personally involved in the kickbacks received strong support from B. M. Oza, who was India's ambassador to Sweden when the Bofors deal was being finalized in 1986. Oza last week published a book, "Bofors: The Ambassador's Evidence," in which he said that he conducted his own investigation into the arms deal and was warned by Rajiv's office to desist from doing so. "I had no doubt in my mind that the commissions were actually the bribe money for Rajiv Gandhi paid by Bofors through [Ottavio] Quattrochi," Ambassador Oza writes. 

Quattrochi is among those named by Singh as being recipients of the bribes. "He got the deal swung in favor of Bofors and that, too, in record time. He could not have done this without Rajiv Gandhi's support. What more evidence do you want?" 

While the drama was being played out in New Delhi, Bofors found itself in a new controversy involving allegedly illegal arms shipments to India, which has blacklisted the company since 1990. Acting through a third party, a Swedish company called Mipro AB, Bofors was found to be shipping weapons components for the Carl Gustaf rifle to India. The rifles were initially bought by the Indian army in the mid-1970s from Sweden's state-owned armaments company, FFV. In 1991, FFV was acquired by Bofors and was blacklisted along with Bofors from operating in Indian territory on account of the howitzer scandal. Joginder Singh, meanwhile, said that he is confident that despite his dismissal the Bofors bribery case would proceed eventually. "India has a strong judiciary and a strong media," he said. "We have a strong parliament. In my mind, I went by the law of the land, with all the evidence that was at hand. You have to provide clear leadership in order to produce results. I honestly believe that there is no chance that anything is going to stay buried for long." ...

Chitra Subramaniam, 38, is widely recognized as the prime investigator who broke open the $1.3 billion scandal involving the purchase of 410 dud howitzers by India from Sweden's languishing weapons supplier, Bofors AB. Subramaniam has documented that, in violation of Swedish and Indian pledges, some $250 million in commissions were paid to middlemen. The case has now become a crisis for the government of Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral, with the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi being implicated in the scandal as one of the alleged beneficiaries. Subramaniam, who was educated at Stanford University, now lives in Geneva. She spoke with The Earth Times recently. Excerpts: Why is the Bofors case important? L'affaire Bofors is important because this is the first time that the Prime Minister of India has been directly implicated in an arms-for-bribes scandal. This is the first time that such destruction was wrought on institutions, conventions, principles and individuals all to the save the skin of one man. Institutions that were supposed to ensure the well being of the democracy simply buckled and for ten years successive Indian governments have gone to great lengths to destroy evidence and undermine the investigation. The case is important because it shows that however hard governments try to keep a lid on their lies, truth has a way of coming out. And it took just a handful of people to blow the official story apart in India and Sweden. 

More than the money, Bofors is the story of betrayal of faith by a Prime Minister who said he would make India a prosperous and self-respecting country. What does the case say about the international arms trade? The international arms bazaar is an a-moral world frequented not just by arms dealers but also by politicians and bureaucrats who in some cases depend on these salesmen of death for their political survival. Politicians in developed countries say they need to sell arms by hook or by crook for jobs back home while in the developing world such deals line politicians' pockets who go around saying everybody's corrupt anyway. 

It's a vicious circle and arms dealers win all around. But, one thing is certain - the international arms trade cannot survive without the active support of politicians. Bofors, but more so the cover-up in India and Sweden showed us just how solid that relationship is. Despite the mountain of evidence establishing the bribes, India has yet to ask Bofors to return the money -- makes you wonder, doesn't it? As the prime investigator in the case, do you feel that your effort has been worth it? I hope so. It's taken ten years, many heart-breaks, many court cases and many desperate moments to get to the charge-sheet stage. It's been a learning process all along and yes, I think it's been worth it. Now one hopes that the people who looted India will go to jail. You have been threatened and subjected to other harassment. Do you feel that investigative journalists are increasingly being targeted by those whom they write about? 

Shooting the messenger who brings bad news is an old practice. When you work on a story like Bofors you are on the firing line and sometimes you think it will never end. But I have been very lucky and have received a lot of help from my sources in India, Sweden and Switzerland and I think we all have managed to hold together. And I see more and more of this kind of solidarity backing journalists in the face of assault by rogue politicians. Has the Bofors story made Indian journalism -- and third world journalism--''come of age?'' 

The developing world is full of very courageous journalists some of whom have paid with their lives while defending the right to inform and question. Colombia, Algeria, for example. In India, the press has traditionally been strong, free, critical and lively. What Bofors did, I think, was to push that right to information to its limits in search of conclusions. In many ways, the word Bofors in India has come to symbolize corruption in high places but also the fight against it. Are journalists in developing countries more handicapped in pursuing stories such as Bofors which involve international figures? The handicap comes not so much in pursuing the stories as when institutions fail to rise to the challenge of following-up on the work of journalists. In India, for example, no politician has ever gone to prison on corruption charges. You can have all the evidence you want, like in Bofors for example, but that does not mean a prison sentence. This happens not for want of evidence but because institutions set up to ensure the health of nations are being used to serve the narrow needs and fears of politicians and their yes-men. In addition, life is tough and people are so busy coping with corruption in daily life and that puts a premium on how much and how far one can pursue a case. 

Why do you feel there has been a continuing cover-up in the Bofors case? For the simple reason that most of our politicians have ''little and large Bofors'' in their closets and it serves everybody's purpose to cover-up Bofors. As India turns 50, do you feel that its news institutions have matured fully or is there still a reluctance to take on the high and mighty? India's news organizations are light years ahead of other institutions that make for a healthy democracy. And that's part of the problem. Indian politicians, inured to corruption in all its forms have to cope with a very aggressive press. Gaging, suppressing,blaming the CIA or some ''foreign hand'' is their only answer to a press that is largely intelligent, mature and responsible. The press in India is delightfully irreverent of the powers that be. Its our politicians who have let the country down....

Had it not been for Chitra Subramaniam's investigations, the $1.3 billion Bofors arms scandal would have not resulted in the charges now emerging against the high and mighty in India and elsewhere. It was her digging that brought to light the paper trail documenting how AB Bofors--a failing Swedish arms manufacturer--allegedly paid $40 million in bribes to various middlemen, with the acquiescence of top government officials in India. Subramaniam, who is based in Geneva, documented how the Indian government bought 410 Bofors 155mm howitzers over the objections of India's military chiefs, who thought that a competing French gun was better. 

She nailed down questionable payments made by Bofors--payments which the company to this day denies were bribes. Her relentless journalism has won her international accolades and awards, but Subramaniam has also--no surprise--attracted her share of enemies. She has been harassed, threatened, followed and vilified by many of the suspects in the Bofors case. Attempts were made to bribe her. The late Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi once sat down with a leading Indian journalist, Vir Sanghvi, and drew an elaborate chart in which he sought to show that Subramaniam and her husband, Dr. Giancarlo Duella, were recruited by the US Central Intelligence Agency when they were graduate students at Stanford University. Dr. Duella, who works for AT&T in Geneva, suffered through the trauma of Bofors--not only feeling the pain of his wife as she labored on her investigation but also paying her legal costs when at least one of the suspects took her to court. "I don't know many spouses who would have gone through anything between 60 to 75 phone calls per day, night and midnight--and survived," Subramaniam says. "It was Giancarlo who told me that knowing something was one thing, proving it was another. It was Giancarlo who told me that sticking documents under the bedroom mattress wasn't the smartest thing I had done. Our dining room and bedroom conversations were all Bofors."

 Her children, Nikhil and Nitya, were both born during the span of the Bofors story, and Subramaniam was a hostage to her reporting even as she was nursing her children. One of her books, the one on Bofors, lauds Nikhil in the dedication for "putting up with a mother tied to the telephone." "What was it like being the principal investigator?" says Subramaniam. "Don't forget--I was changing Pampers and mashing apples even as I was taking notes and writing stories for so many years that I did not realize what was going on because I simply did not have the time. Often I would be nursing the baby even as I took notes--it was all very comic. I just about managed to keep afloat weighed down not just by my ignorance about the arms trade but also by housework. I think you have to be a little mad to do this kind of work." 

Her self-deprecation apart, few would minimize her extraordinary accomplishments, not only in the Bofors story but also in journalism generally. Subramaniam studied at Delhi and Stanford Universities, and has worked for prestigious Indian publications such as India Today, The Hindu, and now The Indian Express. She has written two books, the latest titled "India is for Sale," which was published earlier this year. The book is currently on the best-seller list in India, according to The New York Times. So what was Bofors finally all about? "Bofors is not just the story of corruption in high places," Subramaniam says. "Beyond the bribes, it is the story of faith and how that faith was systematically betrayed by a system, a government, a prime minister. 

The story has been called India's Watergate. How I wish that comparison were true in all its aspects. In the Watergate investigation, the system took over from where journalistic endeavor stopped after going as far as it possibly could. In Watergate, democratic institutions responded as they were expected to and rose to the challenge. In Bofors, the system was made to buckle to serve the interests of the corrupt. Every institution that makes for a responsible democracy was either destroyed or discredited. There is a price to pay for that.

 

 

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