Date: 2/11/2004


Wednesday February 11, 6:45 PM

Congress can only provide 'irresponsible governance': BJP By Indo-Asian News Service

New Delhi, Feb 11 (IANS) In a fresh attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Wednesday harped on the security implications of allowing foreign-born access to the country's top posts.

Law Minister Arun Jaitley Wednesday cited the memoirs of former cabinet secretary B.G. Deshmukh to raise questions about Italy-born Sonia, her late husband and former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress party.

Referring to Deshmukh's account of the 1987 kickbacks scandal involving Sweden's Bofors company - in which a court recently cleared Rajiv Gandhi - Jaitley accused the late prime minister of compromising India's security by letting her Italian connections interfere in matters of governance.

"In 1986 the prime minister (Rajiv Gandhi) was not of a foreign origin but the obvious foreign connection was there," he said.

He quoted Deshmukh as saying that Rajiv Gandhi had pushed for the training of Indian security personnel in Italy, and even offered to bear the expenses.

"(This) only illustrates the magnitude of the threat that a constitutional functionary of foreign origin can result in," said Jaitley.

He remarked that the Bofors scandal had every ingredient of "irresponsible" and "immature" governance.

The minister went on: "Be it foreign relatives handling serious security issues, members of a close coterie supervising those affairs and the subordination of important institutions and agencies to those people."

Jaitley raised questions about one of the accused in the Bofors case, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi.

"This country still has not received an answer on how Quattrocchi got involved in a defence transaction like this. Neither was he in the government, nor did he represent Bofors," Jaitley said.

Deshmukh, who had served as both cabinet secretary and principal secretary to Gandhi, notes in his book, "A Cabinet Secretary Looks Back," that the then prime minister's house "had access to funds from abroad".

"The prime minister's special security was being asked to go to Italy for special training," he writes.

"No paper was moved in the government and when confronted the then prime minister said that the party would bear the expenses."

The former bureaucrat says an Indian intelligence agency was asked to deliver Italian currency equivalent to a quarter of a million dollars to an Italian who "was a relative of the then prime minister through the family of his 'in-laws'.

Stating that an Italian trainer was finally called to train the security personnel, Deshmukh concludes: "I also realised that in the Mughal Durbar like functioning of the Gandhis I had committed the cardinal sin of cross-checking with the king himself the message he conveyed to me through his aides."