Monday, December 27, 2010

Indian Leaks: Bofors, Thakkar Commission, Devi Lal etc.

I thought I shall write this after a day but could not resist it. The release of the Thakkar Commission report by Indian Express ranks right along there with wikileaks. Indian Express and the Rajiv Gandhi government were at each other's throat. Thakkar commission was established to probe the conspiracy angle in Indira Gandhi's assassination. The report was sealed as "secret" even from the then President Giani Zail Singh. One fine morning Indian Express readers woke up to see on the front page a column titled "The needle of suspicion points to R.K. Dhawan". Dhawan was Gandhi's secretary. Thakkar commission had said his conduct was suspicious. By now Dhawan was an MP. Needless to say the Parliament was rocked. The country was in a state of shock. A senior member of Indira Gandhi's administration and a close confidant had been pointed with a "needle of suspicion". Then questions swirled around M.L.Fotedar too. Both Fotedar and Dhawan were only steps behind Mrs Gandhi but were not hit by the spray of bullets that felled the Iron Lady. Of course the Express was hauled to the courts.

The creme-de-la-creme was the Bofors controversy. For months Rajiv Gandhi had claimed nothing had happened. Rajiv had come to Avadi for a national Congress party meeting reminiscent of the one held by Nehru. The day the meeting opened India's most venerated newspaper Hindu (referred as the prim lady by Nehru in his autobiography) splashed on its front pages documents indicating kickbacks. Hinduja's and Quattrochi became household names. Chitra Subramaniam reporting from Geneva was the key investigation journalist, Ram was her counterpart in India writing the articles. The collaboration ended messily. Later then editor of Hindu, Kasturi, put a stop to the expose. N.Ram huffed and puffed and took his exposes to rival Express. Goenka, publisher of Express, and Arun Shourie, editor of Express, were too glad to provide space to N.Ram. Arun Shourie had cut his teeth in investigative journalism during his earlier stint at Express by taking on Maharashtra strongman A.R.Antulay.

Congress then decided to meet expose with expose. V.P.Singh was riding high as the Jan Morcha leader. I am not sure of the chronology here a bit but I think the St.Kitt's scandal happened after the Allahabad by election when Singh trounced the Congress candidate. Papers friendly to congress published documents alleging offshore accounts  in St.Kitts island as belonging to V.P.Singh's son Ajeya Singh. This was targeted to hit Singh's Mr Clean image. Within days Arun Shourie and others proved that the documents were forged. P.V.Narasimha Rao then External Affairs minister got embroiled in that forgery case in later years.

Once V.P.Singh got elected it was a case of tamasha everyday trying to keep "Tau" Devi Lal happy. Om Prakash Chautala, Devi Lal's son, caused utter mayhem in the Meham by election to get elected as MLA (and become Haryana CM). Tau, convinced that the newspaper elites were against him picked up the phone to Arun Shourie. Devi Lal then launched into a tirade filled with obscene expletives. Arun Shourie then released the entire transcript the very next day on the front pages titled 'This is the Deputy Prime Minister speaking".

The Nellie massacre was brought to light only due to journalists. Indira Gandhi was advised by intelligence agencies not to hold elections in Assam where the students were agitating against influx of foreigners, mostly Muslims from Bangladesh. Indira, for political gains, as always, went ahead and Nellie, a village mostly of Muslims, saw a massacre that was brazen and shocking. The official commission's report is still classified a secret. Around 2000+ muslims died.

Of course these exposes started taking an ugly turn even back then. Ram Jethmalani who ran his famous "10 questions a day" to Rajiv published photos of Ajitabh Bachchan's private home in Switzerland (or Sweden?). The tuition fee details of Bachchhan children were divulged in the front pages as proof of ill-begotten money. Amitabh was innocent.

Now we have the sting operation era. Tehelka tapes exposed corruption in BJP alliance and in the most serious expose the judges of lower courts were exposed in a "cash for warrants" sting. The Supreme Court chief justice was miffed at Tehelka for the expose than with the corrupt judges themselves.

The Radia tapes has a sweet irony to it. In 1981 a temple functionary at the famous Tiruchendur temple was murdered and a diamond necklace was stolen. The then MGR government prompt announced a commission headed by C.J.R.Paul. The needle of suspicion pointed towards R.M.Veerappan a key confidante of MGR. Karunanidhi undertook a walk to Tiruchendur "Needhi Kettu Nediya Payanam". The Paul commission report was classified secret by MGR. MK got a copy through his contacts and promptly released it, of course in the interest of truth. Then as always happens in politics R.M.Veerappan became friends with MK and RMV's party man is cabinet minister who recently held a lavish function to celebrate MK (though no one knows what was celebrated).

Today Radia tapes are a huge embarrassment to MK and he is tilting at every imaginary windmill much like Don Quixote trying to find fault with every one in sight except his kith and kin.

In a colorful democracy like that of India there is no shortage of drama (and national shame) I just rambled a few.

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