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I felt very strongly that Rajiv Gandhi was not corrupt: B. Raman on the Bofors scandal

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In his memoir, B. Raman writes about his impressions of Rajiv Gandhi, and why the Bofors scandal turned into such a messy affair. 

The following is an excerpt from ‘The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane’ by B. Raman. It was first published in the Indian Defence Review. You can read the original article here.

An Indian journalist based in Geneva played a very prominent role in exposing the Bofors scandal initially through the columns of “The Hindu”, a daily of Chennai, and then of the “Indian Express”. She had very good sources in the Federal Police Department of Switzerland and in governmental and non-governmental circles of Sweden. According to some people in the Indian community of Geneva, a Swedish student, who was living Au Pair in her house and helping her in her domestic chores, also helped her in her coverage.

The personal relations of this journalist with the Indian diplomats posted in Geneva and with large sections of the local Indian community were somewhat strained. They tended to keep away from her. Though I cannot claim to have been her friend, I had better contacts with her, thanks to the fact that her mother, a well-known musician, was a close friend of my family in Chennai. I had been to her house on a couple of occasions for taking a meal with her and her husband, an Italian-speaking Swiss national. Often—but not always— she used to share with me the salient points of her despatches to her paper on the Bofors scandal. I had some well-informed friends in the local community of Afghan political exiles and I used to share with her—-not as a quid pro quo— interesting information gathered by me about developments relating to Afghanistan. Whatever information about the Bofors scandal she shared with me, I used to pass on to the R&AW headquarters, who used to pass it on to Rajiv Gandhi. On such occasions, Rajiv Gandhi used to know in advance what “The Hindu” was going to carry the next day.

Once this journalist contacted me and alleged that she had heard that at the instance of the Government of India, the Hindujas were planning to have her killed in order to silence her. I told her she was imagining things. I assured her that the Government of India was not in the habit of indulging in such things. On two more occasions, she came back to me with the same allegation. I told her that I did not believe it was true and added that if she believed it was true, she was free to seek the protection of the Geneva Police. Thereafter, she did not raise the topic again. I did not think she sought the assistance of the Geneva Police either.

I continued in Geneva for about a year after the Bofors scandal broke out. Many of my friends had asked me while I was still in Geneva and subsequently too whether I thought Rajiv Gandhi was corrupt and whether he or any member of his family had accepted a commission from the Bofors company. My reply has always been as follows: “I had never come into contact with Rajiv Gandhi in Delhi, but I was associated with his visit to Paris, Lyon and Geneva in June, 1985, and to The Hague in October, 1985. He had some expensive tastes like his love for fast cars and fancy electronic gadgets. He had reportedly accepted an expensive Mercedes Benz car as a gift from the King of Jordan, who felt concerned about his personal security when he found him moving around in Delhi in a slow-moving Ambassador car.

He used to drive around in this Mercedes sometimes, but when he lost the elections towards the end of 1989, he promptly transferred it to the President’s garage for being used when foreign Heads of State and Government visited India. Similarly, he transferred to the Government all the other gifts which he had received from foreign leaders when he lost the elections. His personal habits were very simple and austere and he made it a point to settle all his bills while traveling. I formed a strong impression that he was not corrupt. However, he lost his cool when allegations were made in Stockholm that commission had been paid by the Bofors company to some people, one of them an Italian businessman, who was well known to be close to his family. He frantically mounted a cover-up operation and personally got involved in the cover-up exercise, thereby creating unnecessary and incorrect doubts in the minds of some people about his own integrity. Indira Gandhi would have handled a similar situation differently.

She would have maintained a regal distance from any cover-up exercise and let her senior officials handle it, without personally getting involved. Rajiv Gandhi not only personally got involved in the cover-up, but he also encouraged officials and others close to him to create pin-pricks for V.P.Singh, who was in the forefront of those against a cover-up. As examples of such pin-pricks, one could cite the allegations of the involvement of the son of V.P.Singh in a scandal, the childish attempts with the alleged help of the IB to delay from the New Delhi airport the take-off of a hired aircraft in which V.P.Singh wanted to fly to his constituency to file his nomination papers in the 1989 elections etc.

As a result of all this, Rajiv Gandhi unnecessarily got himself tied in knots. Instead of giving him the correct advice to let the truth about the Bofors come out even at the risk of some personal and political embarrassment to him, the IB, the R&AW and the CBI vied with one another in giving ideas to Rajiv Gandhi as to how to do the cover-up.” I still hold this view.

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  1. I think this is rubbish. The late Mr. Raman may have had good relations with Rajiv, but to say he was not corrupt or his family had not benefited from from the Bofors deal is like saying the cat didn’t drink the milk.

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