The breast-beating, outrage and political processions that follow any attempt to question or investigate the alleged wrongdoings of the Congress party’s first family — Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — was much in evidence once again today (21 July), when the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is slated to question her in the National Herald caper.
Apparently, their conduct can never be questioned, whether by people inside the party or outside, never mind if their actions raise genuine suspicions. Congress party processions, often with chief ministers and former Union cabinet ministers in attendance, were held when Rahul Gandhi was questioned for a few days in June in the same case. His reply to a fifth of the questions posed by the ED were “I am too tired”. Sonia Gandhi avoided questioning in June as she was down with Covid and the ED allowed her some latitude.
It needs no genius to figure out why such shows of political strength are held for a plain and simple investigation, since the Gandhis are not above the law.
First, the party hopes to intimidate the investigating officials, so that they know that if the Congress comes to power, they may face action.
Second, it sends a message to members of the party that those who don’t demonstrate volubly in favour of the Gandhis will be considered disloyal to it.
Third, it tells the public that all this is political vendetta, even if there is a prima facie case against the Gandhis.
It is worth noting that in the earlier Bofors howitzers scam, no probe agency dared to question the Gandhis, and especially Sonia Gandhi, whose pal Ottavio Quattrocchi was a recipient in the payoffs. As Chitra Subramaniam, a journalist who investigated the scam from Sweden, told Savvy magazine in an interview a few years ago:
“On February 8, 1997, Sweden's top investigator Sten Lindstrom, who headed the Bofors investigation in that country, broke his 10-year silence to say that if India (had) probed the Quattrocchi link, it would reveal the connection between the gun deal and the political payoffs. Asked if this was the Gandhi link that had dogged the Bofors affair, he said, 'All information we had at that time pointed in this direction.' He said that this very Gandhi link was being explored when under pressure from India, the investigation in Sweden was called off in early 1988.”
Quattrocchi’s accounts holding these payoffs were initially frozen, but in 2009, a Sonia Gandhi loyalist, H R Bhardwaj, unfroze them and allowed Quattrocchi to walk away with the booty.
What matters is that Sonia Gandhi was not only not questioned in the Bofors scam, when it was her friend Quattrocchi who was allegedly involved as middleman, but, in the end, Quattrocchi got his payoff too. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was allowed to close the case in 2011 in the UPA’s second term.
The only two differences between the Bofors case and the National Herald one are these: in the former case, the linkages to Sonia Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were not allowed to be fully investigated; in the National Herald case, there is no doubt whatsoever that Sonia Gandhi and her son got a valuable piece of real estate owned by National Herald transferred to a private trust controlled by them. Their finger-prints are all over National Herald deal (read here, here, here), and they are bristling at the mere thought that their actions can even be questioned, leave alone investigated.
The only message the Gandhis are sending with their defiance is that they cannot be questioned. How dare you?
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