New Delhi: India’s ruling Congress party Monday found itself trapped in an unsavoury controversy about alleged involvement of the party chief Sonia Gandhi’s husband Rajiv Gandhi in a failed defence deal.
According to reports, Gandhi, who served as the Indian prime minister between 1984 and 1989, played middleman for the Swedish company Saab-Scania, which wanted to sell its Viggen fighter aircraft to India in the 1970s.
Quoting web portal WikiLeaks, The Hindu on Monday published details of diplomatic cables sent by the New Delhi-based US Embassy, revealing association of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s elder son with the Swedish company’s bid to sell the fighter aircraft to India.
“Mrs Gandhi’s older son’s only association with the aircraft industry has been as a pilot for Indian Airlines and this is the first time we have heard his name as entrepreneur,” the cable says.
Rajiv Gandhi, elder of Indira’s two sons, worked as a commercial pilot and joined politics much later when younger brother Sanjay Gandhi died in a plane crash and became prime minister in 1984 following Indira’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.
The cables sent in October 1975, when India was under emergency rule under Indira, calls Rajiv as the “main Indian negotiator” for a massive aircraft deal for which his “family connections” were seen as valuable.
Incidentally, Rajiv Gandhi came under clouds for his alleged involvement in the Swedish Bofors arms deal while he ruled the country. While his direct involvement in the alleged kickback was never established, the Bofors deal lead to a humiliating defeat of the congress party and ouster from power in 1989, two years before he was assassinated by Sri Lankan Tamil guerrillas.
Saab-Scania never got the contract which finally was awarded to the British SEPECAT Jaguar.
The alleged middleman’s role of Rajiv Gandhi, however, is bound to embarrass the elite Gandhi-Nehru family with the next general elections fast approaching. The congress party-led United Progressive Alliance government is already facing the heat on corruption charges due to its alleged involvements in several scams.
The congress party, expectably, was on the defensive after publication of the report, dismissing the allegation and questioning the credibility of WikiLeaks. The party Monday also accused the media of sensationalism for reporting the cables which were sent to the then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
“The credibility of WikiLeaks is questionable. We don’t give importance to the allegations and the cables,” a senior Congress party leader, considered close to Sonia Gandhi, said. The party was expected to come out with its official statement later in the evening.
The opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), however, appeared set to grab yet another opportunity to pin down its political arch-rival in a corruption charge, demanding the party to come clean on the latest revelations.
“The WikiLeaks revelations are serious. This is an absolutely shocking revelation. Let us not forget the revelations are making two specific charges about two of their late prime ministers – Indira and Rajiv Gandhi,” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said.
“These are 30 year old cables which mean they have nothing to do with the politics of today. They are connected to the first family of congress. All defence deals have some relations with the congress’ first family. They should come clean on this, all the documents should be made public.
We want the government, congress and the family to come clean on it,” Javadekar added.
What gives some solace to the congress party is another cable that says that the US official have no information to corroborate or reject the Swedes’ theory about using the elder son of the Indian prime minister in attempts to seal the deal.