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Bofors: How it affected the nation’s psyche


Thursday 5 February 2004, by JOSHI*Manoj

Article paru dans le Times of India, ?dition en ligne du jeudi 5 f?vrier.

NEW DELHI : It began at the end of 1984, when the handsome young scion of India ’s pre-eminent political dynasty became Prime Minister of the country with the biggest majority in history.

He gathered around him a roundtable of young knights who sought to take India into the 21st century. It was an Indian Camelot whose King Rajiv Gandhi promised to rid the country of corruption and backwardness.

In two short years, the fairy tale began to crumble when charges surfaced that people high in the government had been bribed to favour AB Bofors, a Swedish armament giant, for supplying 410 of their superlative 155mm guns to the Indian Army.

The charge was first voiced by the Swedish National Radio and confirmed by the Swedish National Audit Bureau report.

Soon it began to be whispered that it was not just high officials, but the highest in the land. As the government obfuscated, political opponents moved in for the kill.

Once everything he touched became gold, after the Bofors scandal exploded, nothing that he did was right. He lost his friends and associates - Amitabh Bachchan, Arun Singh and later Arun Nehru.

There was "Brasstacks", a massive military exercise that nearly took the country to war with Pakistan . Then came the Sri Lankan misadventure when an Indian Army sent to keep peace in Sri Lanka ended up fighting the LTTE. The final denounement was Rajiv’s assassination at the hands of a revenge squad of the Tigers in May 1991.

Ironically, it took the Kargil war to prove just how good the gun was. As for the alleged bribe, at Rs 64 crore, it was peanuts by today’s standards.

As the general elections of 1989 approached, Rajiv also lost his political compass. In 1985 in the Shah Bano case, the Supreme Court had granted maintenance to a Muslim woman divorced by her husband.

Rajiv was pressured into introducing a Bill to negate the judgment and lost support of liberal Hindus.

Later, wounded by Bofors, he was persuaded to begin his election campaign after performing the Shilanyas for a Ram temple at Ayodhya.

By trying to outdo the BJP on the Hindutva front, he lost Muslim support as well. In the end, he lost the election and soon thereafter his life. But it all began with Bofors.

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