Almost 30 years ago, India witnessed a multi-million dollar arms deal that took place with the blessings of the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress Government. But soon the dirty deal was busted. Today, it’s back in the realm of India’s judiciary system. The case is expected to be heard this October.
For the uninitiated, very quickly, on March 18, 1986, a deal was signed between Bofors, a Swedish arms company, and Government of India, to deliver 410 155mm Howitzer field guns worth a whopping Rs.1,437 Crore.
It was then the biggest arms deal in the history of Sweden. A Swedish radio channel, in the following year, reportedly alleged that hefty sweeteners were paid to politicians and top defence personnel to help close the deal.
The allegations soon became tangible. Large amount of evidence was secured, stunning the Rajiv Gandhi government. CBI filed its first charge sheet in 1990, and later in 1999 against major parties involved in the Bofors deal – Martin Ardbo, Win Chadda, Ottavio Quattrocchi, Defence Secretary S K Bhatnagar, and the Hinduja brothers – for criminal conspiracy, cheating and forgery. However, the only party that continues to face the wrath of subsequent trials are the Hinduja Brothers.
The Hinduja Brothers were accused of accepting payments totalling $8.3 million as illegal commissions to help secure the contract with the Indian Government. However, Justice RS Sodhi ruled that “No case can be proceeded against the Hindujas or the Bofors Company in the absence of original documents. I quash the framing of charges by the chief metropolitan magistrate against the Hinduja brothers and the Bofors AB.” In its strongly worded ruling, the court criticised the CBI for failing to produce any credible evidence to substantiate its original claims.
This verdict clearly means “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
After the verdict of the Delhi High Court, the CBI failed to put up a plea in Supreme Court in the next ninety days, leaving the case to its fate. It will be fair to assess that people were never satisfied with the verdict. In fact, they were confused. Despite being in possession of evidence, how was it possible that the CBI failed to put up a case? Why did the CBI miss the deadline? It is possible only with the help of people in the position of power to ensure that the case fades away.
Later that year, the Supreme Court accepted Ajay Agrawal’s (the advocate-turned-politician) plea, challenging the High Court’s decision to quash the charges against the Hinduja Brothers. The case is expected to be heard this October.
A lot is at stake for the UPA. The BJP is seen keen to get the process of inquiry started, calling for proper investigation during this Monsoon Session. As per Sten Lindstrom, a senior Swedish officer, “large amount of evidence” was handed to India. It is speculated that the case might open other critical chapters for Congress, making its ground weaker for the 2019 elections.
The reopening of the case will once again drag the Hinduja Brothers to the Courtrooms. They have suffered economical, emotional, professional and personal loss. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to weather the storm once again.