New Delhi, April 26 (IANS) Almost a quarter century after it surfaced, the Bofors payoff scandal created a storm again Thursday, disrupting parliament, as the opposition vociferously demanded a fresh probe into the deal that has long haunted the Congress.
However, functioning of parliament is likely to be peaceful Friday with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) deciding not to take up the issue.
Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were Thursday disrupted with opposition members asking the government to explain how the main accused, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, was given a safe passage to leave the country in 1993 to avoid arrest, six years after the scandal surfaced in 1987.
Speaking outside the house, BJP and Left leaders demanded a fresh probe and initiation of process for Quattrocchi’s extradition.
While in Lok Sabha, BJP’s Jaswant Singh, and in Rajya Sabha, Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley did not take any names, talking to journalists outside parliament, party general secretary and spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad attacked Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the issue.
In Lok Sabha, Jaswant Singh made a passionate appeal for a fresh inquiry and slammed the government for not doing enough to dig the truth behind the alleged scandalous purchase of the 155-mm howitzers in 1986.
“The storm over Bofors has not slowed down the roar of the gun is still being heard. It is a saga of continuing corruption. I appeal to the government to recognise that,” he said.
“For the sake of cleansing this poison from our system, please appoint a judicial commission to probe this. Do it, otherwise we will continue to suffer pain.”
As Sonia Gandhi listened with rapt attention, Jaswant Singh said: “I feel no delight to raise this issue It was a mistake and we are still paying for it.”
He admitted he “failed to extradite Quattrocchi” when he was external affairs minister.
“You are blaming us But our failure cannot be your success. Whatever the reasons, we want to know why Quattrocchi was taken out of the country by the government. How did this happen? Why was Quattrocchi red corner notice withdrawn in the Bofors case?”
The BJP leader praised the gun but said the way it was purchased was scandalous.
In the Rajya Sabha, Jaitley said after spending “25 years trying to unearth the truth”, the government was “unable to nail the culprits despite having conclusive evidences”.
Referring to Quattrocchi as “a gentleman whose name started with Q”, he said the Italian had escaped because of “a friendly government and incapable probing agencies”.
Prasad said the issue was directly related to Sonia Gandhi’s reputation.
“I understand the compulsion and limits of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he was just a civil servant when the scam took place Sonia Gandhi ji the decision in this case will be the benchmark by which the nation will judge you,” Prasad said.
The issue of Bofors scam rose to haunt the Congress-led government again as former Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom, the original whistleblower, disclosed that the late Rajiv Gandhi “watched the massive cover-up” and the guilty party, Quattrocchi, got away.
In an interview to media watchdog The Hoot, Lindstorm, however, gave a clean chit to the former Indian prime minister for his alleged direct role in the payoff scandal.
Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India-Marxist also demanded a fresh probe and said the issue would continue to haunt India till Quattrocchi was brought to justice.
Congress’ Sanjay Nirupam strongly objected to the opposition raising the issue and asked the BJP to “first apologise to the nation for tarnishing the image of the late Rajiv Gandhi” for naming him in the scandal all these years.
The issue caused an uproar in Lok Sabha with opposition and ruling MPs shouting at one another. Speaker Meira Kumar tried to bring peace but when members didn’t relent, she adjourned the house till 2 p.m.
In the Rajya Sabha, leaders from nearly all opposition parties — the Left parties, AIADMK, the Janata Dal-United, the Biju Janata Dal, the Samajwadi Party — joined the BJP in demanding a fresh probe.
The upper house was adjourned three times on the issues, twice before 12 noon, and then till 2 p.m., after which it resumed discussion on working of the labour ministry.