Bofors: Best argument for Lokpal

Govt control over probe, prosecution lets scamsters free

prasanna

Prasanna Mohanty | May 4, 2012



False closures of corruption bleed the system. Every day has to matter. When something like the scale and violence of Bofors happens, you begin to question your own faith as a professional and a human being. When you start losing faith, you begin to lose hope. When hope is lost, everything is lost. We cannot afford to let that happen. Maybe we will get nowhere, but silence cannot be the answer”, said Sten Lindstrom, former head of Swedish police who led the investigations into the Bofors scam, as he signed off his interview (in thehoot.org) with Chitra Subramaniam-Duella, the journalist who did most of the reporting exposing the scam in 1980s.

The interview marked 25 years of the scam and saw Lindstrom revealing himself as the whistleblower, the Swedish Deep Throat of the Bofors saga.
Mark the words ‘false closure’. Few will dispute that. It has been conclusively proved that political payment was made in the Bofors gun deal to the extent of  '64 crore to clinch the deal. Yet, none got punished, notwithstanding more than two decades of hullabaloo and investigation that followed. The court cases ended without convictions. Some of the accused escaped law or passed away. Those who survive have little to fear. In the meanwhile, corruption in defence deals continues, unabated. So do investigation, media expose, political hue and cry and court cases. The latest one involves the serving army chief and a retired lieutenant general.

If there ever was a case for an independent anti-corruption mechanism like the Lokpal with its own arms of investigation and prosecution, it is the Bofors case. The Bofors is a saga of monumental institutional failures. Both the investigation and prosecution became cover-up exercises, aimed at protecting, rather than exposing and punishing the guilty. The interests of the political party in power became the driving force and since some of the accused had god fathers across party-line, there was little difficulty in getting away. That should explain the resistance of political parties to the institution of Lokpal and, conversely, the dire need for it.

For 43 years, the issue is being debated in parliament without reaching a closure. There have been more than half-a-dozen bills, all drafted in a way to deny independence and effective power to Lokpal. The last one, which was introduced after Anna Hazare’s fasts at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila grounds in 2011, is still pending with Rajya Sabha with little hope of being passed.

Some of Lindstrom’s observations are instructive and bear repetition. He told Subramaniam-Duella: (a) “Many Indian institutions were tarred, innocent people were punished while the guilty got away”; (b) “Can you imagine a situation where no one from India met the real investigators of the gun deal? That was when we saw the extent to which everyone was compromised” and (c) “Many politicians who had come to my office claiming they would move heaven and earth to get at the truth if they came to power, fell silent when they held very important positions directly linked to the deal.”

That the investigation into the Bofors was fake was confirmed also by former additional secretary, RAW, B Raman, who was posted in Geneva at that time. In his book “The Kaoboys of RA&W”, he wrote, “I got the impression that they (Indian investigators) met only those (in Europe) who had little or no knowledge of the Bofors payments and avoided meeting those, who claimed to have knowledge of the payments”.

He should have known because he was asked to screen in advance those the Indian investigators met even though his agency, RAW, was not part of the investigation. And shoddy investigation meant the cases fell flat when the trials began back home.

The politicians may now scream their lungs out, but they are all equally guilty of letting the culprits get away. The institutions need protection from them, their manipulating and interfering ways.

Those who boast of having already won the “intellectual debate” against Anna’s Lokpal movement need to revisit the Bofors saga for better appreciation of the issues at stake.
 

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