New Delhi, April 8 (IANS) An explosive Wikileaks cable that claimed the late Rajiv Gandhi may have been a middleman for a Swedish firm trying to sell its fighter aircraft to India has led to a storm, with the Congress dismissing it as “baseless” and the BJP asking the government to “come clean”.
The Congress slammed the claim in the WikiLeaks cable as “baseless” and “unfounded”.
Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi asserted there was no basis to the allegation against Rajiv Gandhi that he may have acted as a middleman much before he became prime minister.
He accused WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of “spreading lies and falsehoods”.
Dwivedi also urged the media not to fall for “temporary gains”.
“…We are very hurt with the news,” he told reporters after The Hindu newspaper, which as part of a collaboration with WikiLeaks, accessed and published the cable on its front page.
“Having noted what the Swede has said, the cable makes the comment that there was no additional information to either refute or confirm the information. The foundation of the whole story falls flat here,” Dwivedi said, quoting parts of the cable.
The leaked US embassy secret cable claimed that Gandhi was the “main Indian negotiator” for a massive aircraft deal for which his “family” connections were seen as valuable.
The cable dated October 21, 1975, says that the “Swedish Embassy Official has informed us that main negotiator with Swedes on Viggen (a fighter aircraft) at New Delhi end has been Mrs Gandhi’s older son, Rajiv Gandhi. Latter’s only association with aircraft industry (to our knowledge) has been as pilot for Indian Airlines and this is first time we heard his name as an entrepreneur.”
In another cable, the Swedes said they “understood the importance of family influences” in the final decision.
The cable adds: “Our colleague describes Ranjiv Gandhi [sic] in flattering terms, and contends his technical expertise is of a high level. This may or may not be. Offhand, 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.”
Dwivedi said: “Today a reputed newspaper of the country has published a peculiar report. What is a matter of deep regret is that those sections of media, in whose wisdom, most people in the country rely have also now begun to believe in sensational news.”
He also said that the earlier leaked cables that were published by Wikileaks were “till date not verified”.
“…I do not understand what is the basis of what has been published in the newspaper today,” he added.
Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Swedish company Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India 155 mm field Howitzers.
The Rs.64 crore (approx $12 million) scandal, bigger than any that India had seen before, led to the defeat of the Congress in the November 1989 elections.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said, “The cables are not being taken seriously anywhere in the world and I don’t know why we should make an exception.”
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, seized the opportunity to launch an attack on the Congress and sought clarification.
“The WikiLeaks revelations are serious,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters.
“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, and we want the government, Congress and Gandhi family to come clean,” Javadekar told reporters.
Reacting to the BJP attack, Dwivedi said another WikiLeaks cable also spoke of a big leader of the NDA taking money from the US intelligence agency CIA.
“If it is accepted that there is any truth in this suspicion (about Rajiv Gandhi), then just below that cable is one more report in which the name of a big leader of the NDA figures,” Dwivedi noted.
“I do not want to take his name or level any accusation against him because of the condition in which he is. But whether that is also true that he used to get money from the CIA or he had demanded money from the CIA,” he said.
Dwivedi said if the story was stretched, “were the BJP leaders also involved?”