Bofors: Flogging a Dead Horse
Lt General Harwant Singh recounts the Bofors controversy, which is recently again in the limelight.
NEW DELHI: We had almost got over the shame of Bofors scam where the name of the then PM too had figured, but now one TV channel has brought it back into limelight.
Earlier in answer to a query by the Swedish Daily, Dagens Nyheter,, the then President, Pranab Mukherjee had remarked that , Bofors deal was not a scam but a media trial, because no Indian court took up this case. The Indian Envoy in Sweden, termed it as a slip of tongue on the part of the then President.
On the contrary Delhi High Court did take up the case against Hinduja brothers, but nothing came of it. Now the same TV channel alleges that the CBI did not investigate the case properly. Be that as it may. We need to recall the Bofors saga as it unfolded in India.
The Indian Army trial evaluated a number of artillery guns, through one of the most rigorous set of trials and finally listed three guns as acceptable. These being French, Swedish ( Bofors ) and English in that order of preference. The final selection depended on price, transfer of technology clauses, spares and technical support etc. It is only and only, if these factors ran very close to each other that the issue of preference could come into play.
Somewhere along the line, manufactures of the Bofors gun were able to work out some underhand deal with those who were acting on behest of the ruling establishment in Delhi, that had the final say in the deal.
Once it came to be known within the Ministry of Defence that it was a shady deal and bribes had been paid, and that the highest in the government were involved, so some old hands in the ministry advised that no fingers will be raised on his deal, if the army was to alter its order of preference and place Bofors as its first choice.
This demand by the MoD to change order of preference was the first clear indication that all was not well with this deal. So this one aspect of the drama was clear indication that something was rather fishy in this deal.
To make it absolutely safe the stratagem adopted by the MoD, to cajole the army to recast its order of preference was, one, the MoS defence worked at the COAS level, while a joint secretary, interacted with DGWE. Since this gun had in any case met the GSQR requirements and was acceptable to the military, the order of preference was altered. Army had been demanding such a gun for over a decade and here it was finally being made available, so this change in preference did not make much difference.
The story of money ( Rs 65 crores ) having been paid to gain this contract for the Bofors gun first appeared in Sweden, in the same way as more recently the story of money having been paid to Indian contacts in the case of Augusta helicopters, surfaced in Italy. Such information rarely surfaces within India!
Once the Bofors story broke out in India, there was uproar and the opposition was up in arms. All manner of efforts were made to obfuscate and bury the scam. Parliamentary Committee constituted to look into this deal was not allowed to interrogate the visiting Bofors delegation.
CBI inquiry was held which charge sheeted the then defence secretary and some others. Defence secretary was sent as Lt-Governor, thus placing him beyond the supposedly long, but palsied arm of law. The joint secretary concerned was removed from the scene by posting him to one of our embassies abroad, on a rather long tenure.
A close friend of the, ‘family’ by the name, Ottavio Quattrochhi was acting as a conduit for the bribe money. Later he was allowed to escape from the country and subsequently his bank accounts de-frozen.
It was for the government to properly field the case before the Delhi High court or on getting an adverse verdict file the case with the Supreme Court, but that never happened for obvious reasons. It never happened even when BJP was last in power under Vajpayee government. So in essence, it did remain trial by media.
Now about the Bofors gun. Undoubtedly it is a good gun. But our detailed trials found the French gun better, which would have done equally, if not better than Bofors at Kargil. Some apologists of Bofors have gone so far as to claim that this gun won Kargil for us. For their education, attention needs to be drawn to just one action: one at Tiger Hill, where in spite of all the Bofors gun support, the attacking battalions lost hundred men and nearly three hundred were wounded...
The point often missed out is that Bofors could not be converted into Self Propelled version unlike the French gun, which already had a self-propelled version. Two different types of guns (Towed and Self Propelled versions) as is the case now, with the Indian Army, pose a range of problems of logistics, i.e. ammunition, spares, training of crews and repair teams etc.
As a last ditch effort to justify placing Bofors as the first choice, ‘ Shoot and scoot,’ feature of Bofors was brought in. This gun was then being purchased for mountain formations, where alternate deployment areas are rarely available. Thus, ‘shoot and scoot,’ feature was just a ploy to justify change in military’s stance: at the behest of MoD. .
Now Michael Hershman, an investigator has, suddenly surfaced, fielding story of money (in a big brief case) being passed on to the then Prime Minister, who in return had the BCCI bank staff released and bank re-opened. Hershman alleged to have claimed that he was offered bribe amounting to $ I million to keep shut and if he came to India, he would be killed. The point that the then Prime Minister was directly involved in the sordid saga of Bofors has been known all along, so no useful purpose is being served in, Michael Hersman reiterating the same. There would be no CCTV footage of this brief case being passed to the then PM. Further CBI itself will appear in poor light for having put in half hearted effort when the case was taken up with the Delhi High Court.
Nothing useful will emerge out of the on going efforts to revive the case, because principal actors in this sordid drama are dead and gone. Nor can the progeny be expected to know what their elders had done! There is little political gain to be made during the coming general elections. Government should rather need focus on more pressing issues such as, much promised job creation, building infrastructure, attending to ailing agriculture, the faltering economy, and, ‘Made in India.,’ rather than, .’Make in India,‘ program etc.
Swachh Bharat has seen little progress, our rivers are highly polluted, excessive use of pesticides and dumping of untreated industrial waste into the ground has made ground water no more portable in large number of places. Cancer is on the rise.
Obviously the administration has failed to implement PM’s plans!