Date: 09/04/2013

Rajiv Gandhi was 'middleman' for Swedish jet deal: US cable


Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi may have been a middleman for an arms deal in the 1970s, according to diplomatic cables published Monday.

The Hindu newspaper, accessing new information compiled by WikiLeaks, cites confidential US embassy cables stating that Gandhi was employed by Swedish group Saab-Scandia to help sell its Viggen fighter jet.

Gandhi, who was then outside politics and working as a commercial pilot, was the "main negotiator" for Saab-Scandia and was paid because of his access to his mother Indira Gandhi who was prime minister at the time, the cables say. 1975 New Delhi cable

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They cite information given by Swedish embassy officials but also state that US officials were unable to confirm or deny the information.

"We would have thought a transport pilot is not the best expert to rely upon in evaluating a fighter plane, but then we are speaking of a transport pilot who has another and perhaps more relevant qualification," a US diplomat was quoted as noting wryly in one of the cables.

Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. After entering politics reluctantly, Rajiv was later tarnished by a scandal involving Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors, which was accused of paying bribes to middlemen including an Italian businessman close to the Gandhis.

The Congress party lost elections in 1989, a defeat partly attributed to the Bofors scandal.

Saab-Scandia ultimately lost in its bid to sell its Viggen jets to India. British-made Jaguar planes were selected for the tender.

Wikileaks report on Rajiv Gandhi all lies: Congress
The Congress party immediately on Monday dismissed the Wikileaks report and questioned the credibility and added that the party doesn't give importance to the allegations. 1975 Paris Cable

Congress leader Janardan Dwivedi dismissed the story as baseless saying that there is no ground for it.

Opposition reacts:
Come clean on WikiLeaks cables on Rajiv: BJP to Congress
As the Wikileaks reports about Rajiv Gandhi being a middleman for a Swedish company looking to sell fighter jets to India in the 1970s emerged, there was political uproar in the country.

The Congress should "come clean" on the "WikiLeaks revelations", the BJP said on Monday.

"The WikiLeaks revelations are serious. This is absolutely shocking revelation, let us not forget that the revelations are making two specific charges, about two of their late prime ministers Indiraji and Rajivji," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.

"They are connected to the first family of Congress. All defence deals have some relation 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 told a news channel. 1976 New Delhi Cable

Congress replied by stating that the BJP should think of where it was taking politics of the country, after the opposition party asked it to come clean on reported WikiLeaks disclosures.

"We should think where we are taking politics," Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said, referring to the BJP's comments following the US diplomatic cables from the Henry Kissinger era obtained by WikiLeaks and reported by The Hindu on Monday.

The Congress leader said there appeared truth in apprehensions that an attempt was being made to create an atmosphere of suspicion. He said the Congress was an organisation that was over 125 years old and was dedicated to values.

Dwivedi also hit out at the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance about socialist leader George Fernandes being prepared to accept money from US central intelligence agency (CIA). 1976 New Delhi Cable

If it was assumed that there was some truth in reports of cable information, was it also true that information pertaining to Fernandes was true, he asked.

Dwivedi said Fernandes was not well and he did not want to make an allegation against him.

"But is it true he got money from CIA," he asked. Fernandes was a minister in NDA government.

Dwivedi said if the story was stretched, "were the BJP leaders also involved."

BJP leader Balbir Punj urged the government to order an independent enquiry in the matter.

"It's a very serious matter. It is an allegation, very serious allegation on the former prime minister of India (Rajiv Gandhi). The least the government can do is to order an independent enquiry so that we can know what the facts are," said Punj.

Politicos demand Sonia Gandhi's explanation
Cutting across party lines, leaders of various political outfits on Monday sought an explanation from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi over the latest revelations by US cables WikiLeaks.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut stressed that Sonia Gandhi was the one, who must now clarify these revelations made by WikiLeaks.

"A lot of points have now come out and they are concerning a former Prime Minister of this country. Today, his wife is the biggest political figure in the country and it is now Sonia Gandhi's responsibility to give a clarification on this issue.

Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary Atul Anjan said the latest revelations by US cables WikiLeaks naming late former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in a scandal would create fresh problems for the Gandhi family, and sought an explanation from them on the entire issue.

"The revelations made by WikiLeaks on Rajiv Gandhi will now create fresh problems for the Nehru-Gandhi family, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. And they would have to answer for these revelations," said Anjan.

"There is truth in these facts as names of other senior administrative officers are there in this expose and there are those people who have been close to the Nehru family, like Henry Kissinger," he added.

Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Prakash Karat expressed serious concern over the issue.

"What it shows is this a matter of great and wider concern that you have over the years foreign arms dealers and companies having this nexus with Indian people, political connections and the bureaucracy and the system in India. This is a matter, which already is there. There are so many recent contracts of arms deals," said Karat.

"So, I think it should be taken as something which confirms that this nexus exists," he added.

Samajwadi party leader Kamal Farooqi said that we should not dig up the past, but try to make corrections in the system.

"I personally feel that we should not go into the past so much rather whatever has happened in the past, it should be a lesson for us in future and we should try to correct our system, we should try to make everything foolproof so that there is no element of correction in all this kind of deals," he said.