New Delhi, Apr 26: The Bofors issue today led to disruption in Lok Sabha with the BJP and Left parties demanding reopening of the graft case and a judicial probe into it.
BJP members trooped into the Well following heated exchanges with Congress members, forcing Speaker Meira Kumar to adjourn the House for over 90-minutes.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh said though “the correct weapon was acquired, it was acquired in a wrong manner .... You (Congress) have paid, we have paid. The nation continues to pay”.
“Till you don't remove this thorn, the poison will continue to spread. ... Whatever is happening in the defence sector today is because of this episode. It is a saga of continuing corruption. In matters of corruption, there is no closure,” he said, demanding setting up of a judicial commission to probe the issue.
CPI(M) leader Basudeb Acharia demanded reopening of the Bofors pay-offs case, institution of an independent inquiry and extradition of Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi.
Admitting that the NDA had failed to get Quattrocchi extradited after his arrest in Malaysia, Singh said, “Many will say why did you not do it. You have failed, we have failed. But don't consider our failure as your success.”
Observing that it gave him “no delight” to raise this issue, he said, “25 years have passed but the storm of Bofors refuses to subside and the guns continue to blaze.”
Without naming Rajiv Gandhi, the BJP leader said, “The absence of the late Prime Minister is felt. A promising leader was taken away from our polity.”
The reason behind Congress being reduced from its “historic” victory of 404 seats in Lok Sabha in 1984 to 114 in the next elections was Bofors pay-offs deal, he said.
UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi were present in the House when the Opposition members raised the issue.
The Lok Sabha had earlier seen brief disruption on the issue during Question Hour.
Singh posed a series of questions on the matter and asked why the Indian investigating teams which went to Sweden did not meet their Swedish counterparts probing the matter.
He claimed that Quattrocchi was “permitted through government connivance to escape from Delhi”.
He sought to know why “political” donations were paid to the account of AE Services, a company owned by the Italian businessman.
“How can it (donations) be political in nature when it went to a businessman. We all know he worked for Snam Progetti and what happened in it. We must know what his political purpose was,” he said.
The BJP leader asked why the Red Corner notice against Quattrocchi was withdrawn and why an “inept and incapable” team was sent to Brazil which failed to bring him back.
Singh alleged that Quattrocchi had moved money from his London account and demanded that the account details be obtained the government.
He termed as false the government statements that there were no cases against him, which led to defreezing of his accounts.
Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) asked what was the “interest” in not allowing a proper enquiry and his extradition.
“What was the cover-up, who protected Quattrocchi, what interest did he have ... The Bofors scandal is not a closed chapter ... we will continue to raise this issue” till the persons responsible were brought to book.
As Parliamentary Affairs Minister P K Bansal said the opposition leaders were “lying”, Congress members sought an apology from them, provoking BJP members to troop into the Well.
Sanjay Nirupam (Cong) said the Supreme Court has given a clean chit to Rajiv Gandhi and sought to know why NDA did not do anything for six years when it was in power.
In the Rajya Sabha too, the Opposition today raked up the Bofors issue alleging “cover up” in probe and “burial” of the case leading to acrimonious exchanges with the ruling alliance culminating in repeated adjournments.
The House was adjourned thrice in the pre-lunch sitting over former Swedish police chief's allegation that payoffs were made in purchase of Bofors guns during the tenure of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Raising the issue during Zero Hour, Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said, “There were repeated efforts to cover up. The pace of investigation varied with the colour of the political government in power...we gave a whole burial to the case.”
“....the fact is clear. Somebody got the contract and somebody got the kickback....this man (Ottavio Quattrocchi) is so powerful. Entire Indian state appeared so helpless....this is a textbook illustration of fraud,” he said.
As Mani Shankar Aiyar (Cong) rose on behalf of the treasury benches to counter the allegations of Jaitely, Opposition members shouted him into silence asking why he is being allowed to speak when only leaders of parties in the House have been permitted to raise the matter.
Through a point of order, Najma Heptulla (BJP) demanded that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is Leader of the Rajya Sabha, should be present if the House wanted a discussion.
Naresh Agrawal (SP) also raised objections to the Chair allowing Aiyar to speak on the issue saying this amounted to partiality and demanded everybody should be given opportunity to speak.
Noting that Jaitley has bemoaned the fact that unsuccessful efforts were being made to unearth the truth, Aiyar pointedly said, “The reason why we could not unearth the truth is because the pursuit of truth began with a series of untruths.”
Aiyar also pointed out that no progress was made in the case from December 1989 to November 1990 (during VP Singh government) as well as NDA rule later.
Though Jaitely had not named the late Prime Minister maintaining that he did not intend to blame any political party or leader, Aiyar attacked him saying he has made serious allegations alluding to Rajiv Gandhi without directly naming him.
Aiyar said he has no problem in saying that the case belonged to a period when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minster. Jaitley said the fate of the case in which nobody could be nailed even after 25 years is a “serious reflection on the health of our investigating process” and stressed that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of institutions.
He said there was a need to introspect “where we had gone wrong” and “what is the capacity of Indian state and all agencies of our in pursuit of truth to find out where we have gone wrong.
Jaitley said “our neigbouring country in the western border” faced earthshaking consequences for a similar situation because the Government there did not take steps. He emphasised that the middlemen must be eliminated and probity ensured in public life.
Joining the issue, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said that the issue of Bofors has “plagued” the country for more than two decades.
“It has deeply impacted the country...the issue is of probity...even today there is a big question mark on defence deals. The whistleblower has formally said something. Government must investigate it properly,” he said.
Mohan Singh (SP) said the new facts must be investigated. It has given a chance to the country to bring the economic offender to the country for trial.
He rued that the mystery over the corruption in Bofors was yet to be unravelled. As the din continued, P J Kurien, who was in the Chair adjourned the House till 2 pm.
Earlier during Question Hour, the House was adjourned twice over the issue.
As soon as the House met for the day, BJP and AIADMK members displayed copies of a newspaper interview given by Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom where he said Gandhi did nothing to prevent the cover-up to protect Quattrocchi, who is alleged to have received pay-offs in the case.
Every time BJP members shouted “Who saved Quattrocchi”, ruling Congress members joined the chorus shouting “BJP ney bachaya (BJP saved him)”.
Mani Shankar Aiyar (Cong) said Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitely was the Additional Solicitor General who had done paper work in the Bofors investigation case.
Amid din, the House was adjourned for 15 minutes. As similar scenes prevailed when the House reassembled, it was adjourned till noon.