Rahul Gandhi: A changed captive – Ravi Shankar

Rahul Gandhi

Ravi Shankar Etteth“The Congress party got wiped out by Modi. Modi beat the establishment by becoming the establishment himself. Every politician is a captive of the need for relevance. Rahul has realised that. The new Rahul’s vicious personal attacks in Parliament, his attempt to co-opt the President of India in a film institute squabble, and his ritualistic visit to protesting ex-servicemen wearing a cap with OROP printed on it shows that he has changed. His conscience and altruism have given way to the time-tested cynicism of the very same party politics he and his father tried to change.” – Ravi Shankar

Rahul Gandhi & Sonia GandhiEvery man is his own prisoner. Camus was wrong when he said every man is an island. He is not. He is a prisoner of what defines him—his conscience, his ambition, hate or compassion, humanitarian instincts, and his ideology. The essence of Hindu philosophy is that the soul is trapped inside the body and freedom through action leads to becoming one with the Supreme, thus removing fetters.

Rahul Gandhi is no committed Hindu. He is a prisoner of his agenda. The discovery of India captivated the boy who had grown up in a privileged, protected environment where family tradition dictated that his destiny was to rule India. So like his father, Rajiv, who reluctantly entered politics after the death of his fiercely ambitious brother Sanjay—who was bound to the dream of creating a modern India at any cost—Rahul, too, was a hesitant entrant. It is his karma as India’s politically blue-blooded scion to lead the party and the country, urged his party men, who knew they would be in the wilderness without a Gandhi.

When Rahul arrived as the new hope of the Congress, there was a strong similarity to his father’s style. An introvert who relied on a coterie of technocrat friends armed with data and PowerPoint, earning him the sneering epithet of ‘rocket scientist’ from party elders, who feared being sidelined by a young upstart. The system, a rotten edifice of sycophancy, corruption and cynical electoral arithmetic, swung into action. It reminded them of the threat Rajiv Gandhi posed to their fiefdoms in his historic speech at the Congress Centenary Session held in Bombay on December 28, 1985. He called for the ouster of “brokers of power and influence, who dispense patronage to convert a Rajiv Gandhi, Bombay, 1985mass movement into a feudal oligarchy”. It was ironic coming from a man who was himself part of a politically feudal oligarchy. Rajiv was a prisoner of his dream to change the party and India. His son Rahul inherited it. Rahul’s famous 2008 speech in Parliament about Kalavati, a poor farmer’s widow, earned him sneers and jeers from the Opposition, but he continued unfazed. Rahul, then, was a prisoner of his naiveté, convinced that he could change the system. It is another matter that Kalavati suddenly catapulted to her five minutes of fame, tried her hand at politics, but that is not Rahul’s fault. He tried to understand his country, by staying over in the huts of the tribal poor, travelling second class in trains, and sleeping in the open in villages. His young followers followed suit, braving the mosquitoes, and that alone should have alerted him that sycophancy was the survival code in the system. But it didn’t.

The Congress party got wiped out by Modi. Modi beat the establishment by becoming the establishment himself. Every politician is a captive of the need for relevance. Rahul has realised that. The new Rahul’s vicious personal attacks in Parliament, his attempt to co-opt the President of India in a film institute squabble, and his ritualistic visit to protesting ex-servicemen wearing a cap with OROP printed on it shows that he has changed. His conscience and altruism have given way to the time-tested cynicism of the very same party politics he and his father tried to change. The establishment has succeeded in capturing him in the end. Rahul is no longer his own prisoner but theirs. Some see it as maturing. But in reality, it is a life sentence. – The New Indian Express, 16 August 2015

» Ravi Shankar Etteth is an author, cartoonist and columnist for The New Indian Express. Email him at ravi@newindianexpress.com

Rahul Gandhi


Warren Anderson’s Release: A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma – B. S. Raghavan

Rajiv GandhiOh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!
– Sir Walter Scott

Since everybody is on the job of unravelling the mystery behind the abrupt release of the Chairman, Mr Warren Anderson, of the Union Carbide, after first arresting him on arrival in Bhopal after the horrendous tragedy, why not I throw my hat in the ring? But first, in fairness, I must make a disclaimer and ask for caution.

What I am going to set out falls within the domain of deductive logic, heavily borrowing from the tell-tale technique of fictional heroes, Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The clues are all in favour of supporting the proposition that Rajiv Gandhi had a compelling reason to want to oblige the US Administration by releasing Warren Anderson.

I would not have ventured to come out with it unless I had thought it plausible after obtaining the honestly-expressed views of many friends with long experience of holding high responsibilities and eminent in their own spheres.

I simply narrate the happenings at the same period as when the gruesome catastrophe took place at Bhopal for you to mull over.

Mohammed YunusThe happenings

Now, to the happenings before and after the Bhopal tragedy insofar as it relates to Rajiv Gandhi. Adil Shahryar, the son of Muhammad Yunus, who was almost a part of the Indira Gandhi family, and a mentor of both Rajiv Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi, was tried in a US District Court by a jury, and convicted on an indictment of five counts (including trying to blow up a ship, illegal possession of firearms and carrying them across State borders and drug trafficking) and sentenced in 1982 to 35 years hard labour in prison.

He appealed to the 11th Circuit US Court of Appeals which rejected the appeal on November 21, 1983 saying, “We find that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the verdicts and therefore affirm the district court’s (judgment).”

PrisonerIt is not unreasonable to imagine what a shock this would have been to Yunus and how desperate he must have been to get his son released by using the influence of his highly placed friends. The fact of his leaving no stone unturned is evident from the fact that at one stage, the famous actor Charlton Heston (Ten Commandments, Benhur, The Bold and the Beautiful) got into the act to write to the US Attorney General (pdf), William F. Smith, asking him to intervene in the case. That he was sternly rebuffed (pdf) is another matter.

When Rajiv Gandhi became the Prime Minister, it is not far-fetched to believe that he must have come under relentless pressure from Yunus to make the release of Adil from US jail his topmost priority, even if it be by using his position and broaching the matter directly to President Ronald Reagan.

It was just at that time — December 3, 1984 — the Bhopal tragedy shook the world. If Rajiv Gandhi’s appeal to Reagan on Yunus’ behalf were to succeed, it was imperative to make a gesture that would somehow make President Reagan deal with Rajiv Gandhi’s request favourably.

Warren AndersonGood bargain

Hey, presto! Warren Anderson is given VIP treatment and allowed to fly out of the country on December 7, 1984 and Adil Shahriyar is granted presidential pardon “as a goodwill gesture” and “for reasons of state” on June 11, 1985.

It certainly was a good bargain to exchange a convict undergoing a 35-year sentence for heinous offences in the US for an American corporate honcho, in order to oblige a long-time family friend. – Business Line, 14 June  2010


The Nehru family fight – Madhav Nalapat

M.D. Nalapat“Because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children.” – Prof Madhav Nalapat

Feroze Jehangir GandhiEvery family is subject to its feuds and tensions, and the Nehru family is no exception. Because the husband of Jawaharlal Nehru’s only child, Indira Priyadarshini, was re-named “Feroze Gandhi” by Mahatma Gandhi himself, the Nehru family has usually (and inaccurately) been referred to as the “Gandhi family” when in fact there is no blood tie between any of them and any member of Mahatma Gandhi’s family. Indeed, the latter have been conspicuous in the way in which they have declined to take advantage of their world-famous ancestor.

Whether it be Gopal Gandhi, the soft-spoken diplomat who was also Governor of West Bengal, or any of the other descendants of the Mahatma, each has shown a modesty and a dignity that has remained immune to the lure of either power or money. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi has adopted a leading role in the country’s politics, and uses such perquisites of high office as corporate jets while staying in a huge mansion that would cost about $150 million if placed on the open market. Of course, she gets it virtually rent-free from the Government of India, which also takes care of much of the travel and other costs incurred by her and her family members. Interestingly, both son Rahul as well as daughter Priyanka have their own state-provided mansions in Delhi, even while their mother stays in a dwelling that is by any standard palatial, and which has more than enough room to accommodate the two children. There has always been tension between Sonia Gandhi, the wife of elder son of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, and Maneka Gandhi, the Sikh bride of younger son Sanjay. During the period from the Congress defeat at the 1977 polls to Indira Gandhi’s victory in the 1980 polls, it was Sanjay and Maneka who gave courage to Indira Gandhi, and who carelessly worked towards a political comeback. During this entire period, Rajiv And Sonia were abroad for extended lengths of time, or spending time away from Indira Gandhi and Sanjay.

Indira Gandhi & Sanjay GandhiIndeed, it was no secret that Rajiv and Sonia regarded Sanjay Gandhi as responsible for the downfall of Indira Gandhi, or that Sonia Gandhi had the same feelings towards the younger and attractive Maneka as have been immortalised in “Bahu versus Bahu” soap operas throughout the subcontinent, whether in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. After the death of Sanjay Gandhi in 1980, which occurred soon after Indira Gandhi returned to power and Sanjay emerged as the second-most powerful person in the country, reports have it that Sonia worked ceaselessly to poison the mind of Indira Gandhi against the young widow, Maneka Gandhi, such that the latter was forced to leave the Prime Ministers House along with her infant son. Since then, Maneka has followed a political career entirely independent of the Nehru family, unlike family of Rajiv Gandhi, which has enjoyed the privileges of state patronage ever since.

How did Sanjay Gandhi die? It was in an air crash, when the small aircraft flown by him crashed. But Sanjay was an excellent pilot, and there is talk that the aileron wires were filed in such a way that a few hard tugs on the joystick would have resulted in their fraying and breaking away, thereby sending the aircraft into a fatal dive, which is exactly what happened. There have been whispers that the incident was arranged by local agents of the intelligence agency of a huge country that Sanjay was open in his dislike of. This was the USSR, now defunct. Moscow saw Delhi as its most important strategic partner in Asia, and was apprehensive that Sanjay Gandhi would persuade his mother to move away from the USSR to get closer to Washington, the way Anwar Sadat had in Egypt.

Pope John Paul II with Rajiv & Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi in 1986. Rajiv & Sonia were good Catholics and very good friends of Moscow (who paid Rajiv large amounts of money).Certainly Sanjay Gandhi was an individual of firm views, and he was never afraid to express them. Such transparency may have been his undoing. Certainly, with the death of Sanjay Gandhi, all expectations of a geopolitical shift from Moscow to Washington disappeared. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were very respectful of the USSR and it needs to be mentioned that this loyalty by a Congress Party dominated by them continued to the very last hours of the USSR. Of course, much of the cause was the approach of Washington towards Delhi, with successive US administrations looking not for the crafting of a fair bargain but a surrender by India to the dictates of the US. Sonia Gandhi has several admirers in the Indian media, among which is Vir Sanghvi, who lost his temper at this columnist on a television show some days ago. This was because Vir (who is ordinarily very pleasant and well-mannered) mentioned that Sanjay Gandhi’s widow Maneka “was not a Gandhi”. Such a view is in sync with that of much of the media, which forgets that Indira Gandhi had two sons, and that both families have the same right to legacy of the family.Indeed, out of fear or respect for Sonia, a conscious effort has been made to airbrush Maneka and her son Varun (who is also an MP in the BJP) from any discussion of the Nehru family.

Maneka & Varun GandhiHowever, because of the fall in popularity of the Congress Party and a rise in popularity of the BJP, there seems to be rising panic within the ruling party’s ranks. In order to ensure that Maneka and Varun are not seen as what they are, full members of the Nehru family, a diatribe has been launched against them, including by Sonia and her two children. This is unfortunate. Family is family, and civilities need to be maintained untainted by politics.No more can the fiction be maintained that Indira Gandhi had in effect only a single son, Rajiv, and that other son, Sanjay (and his wife and son) are seen as unpersons. The more Sonia and her children rail against Maneka and her son,the faster will be the loss of their public support and popularity. The people of India respect family ties,and those that uphold them. – Pakistan Observer, 18 April 2014

» Prof M.D. Nalapat is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Karnataka State, India.

Shahzada on the blink!

Ottavio Quattrocchi: The Italian who stained three Indian prime ministers – M. D. Nalapat

Ottavio Quattrocchi and the people he stained.

M.D. Nalapat“The upright PM Manmohan Singh now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.” – Prof. M.D. Nalapat

Ottavio QuattrocchiLast week, Ottavio Quattrocchi, who for decades was in India as the representative of Italy’s Snam Progetti industrial conglomerate, passed away. He was very successful in winning contract after contract for the company from the 1970s onwards, especially in the state-controlled fertiliser industry. When Quattrocchi entered a government office, even Secretaries to Government used to quake in their boots, aware that the Italian could either boost or damage their careers. Those who helped him get juicy contracts got promoted while the few who opposed the many concessions given to Snam and other Italian companies suffered.

Ottavio Quattrocchi and his wife Maria being from Italy, and in Delhi at a time when there were few from that country resident in that city, it was not surprising that Rajiv Gandhi’s Italian wife Sonia got to know them, or that the two families became close to each other socially. In India, anything connected with the Nehru family is covered by a veil of secrecy maintained by successive governments, so there are few records of the contact between Indira Gandhi’s son and daughter-in-law with Quattrocchi and his wife Maria.

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.These days, those close to the presiding matriarch of the Nehru family, Sonia Gandhi, claim that neither she nor Rajiv was in any way close to the Quattrocchis. That the Italian and his wife were just acquaintances. They deny reports that Ottavio, Rajiv, Maria and Sonia met frequently in India, the UK and Italy, and that their families went on holidays together. If it was not his closeness to Rajiv and Sonia, it must have been his magnetic personality that worked such miracles for Ottavio Quattrocchi, enabling him to get file after file cleared so that his principals landed juicy contracts. Although a stranger to the defense trade, Mr Q was chosen by Bofors to be a commission agent in the howitzer deal that company had with the Government of India, a deal that netted him millions of dollars in commission. What he did was obscure, but Bofors landed the contract, to the anger of the French competitors.

Ottavio Quattrocchi & Maria QuattrocchiThat French companies are masters in information and disinformation in furtherance of their commercial interests is known to every serious analyst in India, and it was not long before items began to appear in the international and the national press about alleged kickbacks being paid to top politicians and officials in India to grab the contract. If this were true, it would hardly be a surprise. Bribes are the norm rather than the exception in government contracts in India, especially those involving large sums of money, such as defense or energy deals. Indeed, there are credible sources who claim that a percentage of every dollar that is paid by certain companies for importing crude oil into India gets transferred to secret bank accounts operated by nominees of a powerful political family in the country. However, an examination of the tax returns filed by the members of this family shows that their annual Sonia Gandhi & Ottavio Quattrocchiincome is less than the cost of a month’s foreign travel by them, in a context where some members of the family travel abroad on an average of twenty-seven times each year. Of course, no details of such travel (and the places of stay) to Dubai, London, New York and Bangkok are ever furnished by any government in India. Politicians in the country are unlike those in Pakistan, who go after each other. Here, they each protect the other while publicly professing to expose them.

Manmohan Singh, who is known to be personally honest in a government steeped in bribery, is no exception. Indeed, the upright PM now seeks to roll back the Right to Information Act so as to make it more rather than less difficult for ordinary citizens to access information about state shenanigans. Honesty is of zero value to the citizen unless the PM can enforce it across his government, a task that Manmohan Singh has failed to do.

Ottavio's financer son Massimo and Rahul Gandhi grew up together.Coming to Ottavio Quattrocchi and his mysterious power over successive Prime Ministers of India, perhaps owing to the natural charm that is present in most Italians, on July 29,1993 then Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao personally intervened to enable Quattrocchi to flee the country despite being a subject of enquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation. This columnist knew the Prime Minister (and let it be confessed, admired him in many respects), and he spoke to him about Mr Q, pointing out that it would be wrong to allow a man considered to be at the heart of illicit deal-making in India to leave Delhi for London en route to Milan. The Prime Minister mentioned that a powerful politician had sent a lady Minister of State to meet him with the promise that (the politician) “would forever be an ardent backer” of Mr Rao, should he allow Mr Q to escape. The PM had made up his mind.

CBI HQ New DelhiFlash forward ten years, to the period when BJP stalwart A. B. Vajpayee was Prime Minister. A court in Malaysia was hearing the extradition request of the Central Bureau of Investigation (an agency more political in its functioning than any political party). While the hearing was going on, this columnist was having lunch in Bangalore’s West End hotel with a high official from Malaysia, there to visit a friend. When he spoke about Mr Q finally being forced to come back to India, the high official laughed. “Do you know that Quattrocchi’s lawyers are preparing the briefs for the other side? That they are in close touch with each other? There is no chance that he will lose the case”. The official went on to allege that Mr Q was boasting that Prime Minister Vajpayee himself had sent a private assurance that “no harm would be allowed to come to him”. Hopefully, the Malaysian official was either not telling the truth or had been the victim of rumours. To believe that Vajpayee or his Law Ministry would so subvert the course of justice so as to save Quatrocchi strains credulity. However, clearly the CBI lawyers botched up their case, for evidence that had been found compelling by a Swiss court was rejected by the Malaysian judge. By 2003, Quatrocchi was able The Qongress Partyto leave Malaysia, a free man. Had he brought back Ottavio Quattrocchi, Prime Minister Vajpayee would have been a hero to civil society in India. Instead, many began to believe that Mr Q had been deliberately let off, whatever be the truth or otherwise behind such a perception. The whiff of impropriety that wafted over Team Vajpayee led to the BJP’s defeat the next year, at the hands of the Congress Party. Mr Q had felled yet another politician. – Pakistan Observer, 19 July 2013

» Professor Madhav Das Nalapat holds the UNESCO Peace Chair at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal University in Manipal, Karnataka, India.

Amitabha Pande

Chitra Subramaniam Duella and Indian ambassador to Switzerland  K.P. Balakrishnan

Chitra Subramaniam, investigative journalist who broke the Bofors story in 1987, and Indian ambassador to Switzerland K.P. Balakrishnan with a sealed box of secret documents from Swiss banks that were being sent to the Government of India. Where are these documents now? Read Chitra’s story on News Laundry here.

See also

Kasab Hanging: Why not Afzal Guru, Rajoana, and Rajiv’s killers too? – R. Jagannathan

R. Jagannathan“The timing of the Kasab execution is political. With two elections underway, especially the one in Gujarat, where the Congress is fighting BJP hardliner Narendra Modi, this execution is not only convenient, but will put the BJP on the backfoot while trying to tell the electorate that the Congress is soft on terrorism. The execution is also well-timed for the parliament session — where the Congress will now be able to divert attention away from corruption scandals and seek to pass bills that would normally be difficult to pass, given its minority status.” – R. Jagannathan

Ajmal KasabThere is something disquieting about the decision to fast-forward Ajmal Kasab’s death penalty — carried out surreptitiously today morning — when several other death sentences involving terrorism and political assassinations have been quietly sidestepped.

At the outset, let us all be clear. Kasab, the only Pakistani terrorist involved in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks to be caught alive and convicted, deserved his death penalty many times over. No tears need be shed over the hanging of this grossly misguided youth from across the border.

But was the crime of Afzal Guru, the Kashmiri who was sentenced to death for his role in the attack on Parliament in December 2001, worth an inordinate — if not indefinite — delay? If the attack had succeeded, the entire top leadership of India could have been eliminated at one go. But Guru is still around, a standing indictment to the pusillanimity of a politically weak government.

Last year, the hanging of three killers of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi — Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan — was stayed by the Madras High Court after pro-LTTE and Tamil politicians raised a shindig over it. The Tamil Nadu assembly even passed a resolution calling for clemency. Again, the government showed no spine.

Balwant Singh RajoanaEarlier this year, the execution of Balwant Singh Rajoana, convicted and sentenced to death for the assassination of former Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, was put off following political protests in the state and repeated pleas for clemency by not only the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, but also the BJP-partnered Punjab government.

What is the reason why the Union government has been so eager to hang Kasab, but entirely unwilling to send five others to the gallows for terrorism, assassination and murder?

No government will actually confess to its real motives, but one thing is apparent: only politically convenient convicts will be executed.

In Kasab’s case, he was a Pakistani national, and there was no political pressure to keep him alive in India. Even Pakistan could be secretly happy, for it can now claim it does not have the evidence Kasab could have provided them for prosecuting his handlers in Pakistan.

The bottom line: in all the other three cases, there were political considerations — in Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Punjab coming in the way.

The timing of the Kasab execution is also political. With two elections underway, especially the one in Gujarat, where the Congress is fighting BJP hardliner Narendra Modi, this execution is not only convenient, but will put the BJP on the backfoot while trying to tell the electorate that the Congress is soft on terrorism.

Afzal GuruThe execution is also well-timed for the parliament session — where the Congress will now be able to divert attention away from corruption scandals and seek to pass bills that would normally be difficult to pass, given its minority status.

The execution of Kasab and its timing yields us no other explanation, raising questions about whether justice is merely something to be meted out to politically convenient persons.

More so, when the same Manmohan Singh government is busy talking peace with Kasab’s creators in Punjab.

The execution also comes, ironically, just a day after the Supreme Court itself expressed confusion over the issue of awarding death penalties. It confessed that there was a fair degree of human judgment involved in what is or is not a “rarest of rare” crime meriting a death sentence.

Calling for a review of the norms for awarding death, a bench comprising Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and B. Lokur admitted that there was “little or no uniformity in the application” of this principle (rarest of rare).” The Times of India reported that the bench “seemed to even concede that categorising crimes — the basis for ranking them and assessing which all meet the “rarest of rare” standard — might be difficult. In short, the court suggested that the present system was not working.”

 Murugan, Santhan, Perarivalalan“In the sentencing process, both the crime and criminal are equally important. We have, unfortunately, not taken the sentencing process as seriously as it should be with the result that in capital offences, it has become judge-centric sentencing rather than principled sentencing,” the newspaper reported, quoting Justice Lokur, main author of the judgment.

If the courts are now getting critical about judge-centric hangings, politicians should be careful when deciding on mercy petitions on the basis of political convenience.

The Kasab killing — on which there has been a rare consensus in political circles — may not immediately invite a review of the death penalty, but — as is usual in such cases — the death penaltywallahs may choose to speak up only when politically inconvenient criminals are up for the noose.

We are now in a situation where only politicians will decide who to hang — and that too when it is beneficial to them politically.

Priyanka + NaliniThe message is stomach-churning: no noose is good news for political hot potato cases. For the others, the likes of Kasab who have no political support, it’s bad noose.

What a way to decide on whether someone should live or die.

A dangerous message is also being sent to Pakistan: next time you plot a 26/11, ensure that the killers are Indians. They will never be hanged — as the Guru case shows. Pakistan can then find more political fodder locally, and even organise airline hijacks or terror campaigns to demand their release. – First Post, 21 November 2012

See also

Sonia Gandhi is the fourth richest politician in the world – Preeta Memon

Lady Journalist“Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a non-profit institution working against global black funds, has recently estimated that the Indian wealth secreted away is about $462 billion, approximately equal to Rs 20.80 lakh-crore. The GFI says that more than two-thirds of it was looted away under the liberalisation regime. This is what the GFI says about the character of the loot: “From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight)” through “tax evasion, corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities”. Does one need a seer to say under what head would the $2.2 billion in Sonia family’s secret account (which would have grown to $9 to $13 billion by now) fall?” – Preeta Memon

Sonia Gandhi as DurgaAs India is approaching towards a general election in less than a year, the leader of ruling Indian National Congress has been listed as world’s fourth richest politician with a total wealth of over US$ 18 billion, which is invested in real estate, telecommunication and various business projects around the world, while significant portion of the amount is also deposited in secret bank accounts. Italian born Indian politician Sonia Gandhi alias Antonia Maino was already in the controversy centering one of the biggest bribe scandals in India – 3G Spectrum — wherefrom influential politicians looted billions of dollars through corruption and fraud.

Business Insider has a short feature, “Meet The 23 Richest Politicians In The World“, and Dr Manmohan Singh’s boss, Ms Antonia Maino aka Sonia Gandhi is listed as the 4th richest with wealth estimated between US$ 2-19 billion. This must have given Kapil Sibal and Digvijaya Singh the conniptions, and I am sure that it lends more weight to Dr Subramanian Swamy’s charges against AM aka SG.

Indira is IndiaSonia Gandhi’s late husband and former Prime Minister of India, Rajeev Gandhi came into media’s exposure, when he was caught into Bofor’s kickback scandal, though Indian government tried its best to defend Rajeev Gandhi to be a ‘Mr. Clean’ by tightly restricting access to official documents by the media. What was Rajiv Gandhi’s fatal error in politics? It does not need a seer to say that it was his claim to honesty — branding himself as ‘Mr Clean’ — that proved fatal to him. Indira Gandhi was his contrast. Asked about corruption in her government, she said nonchalantly, ‘it was a global phenomenon’. This was in 1983. An honest Delhi High Court judge even lamented how could corruption be controlled when someone holding such a high position had almost rationalised it. The result, no one could ever charge Indira Gandhi with corruption, because she never claimed to be clean. But, ambitious to look ideal, Rajiv proclaimed honesty and so provoked scrutiny; in contrast, Indira, opting to be practical, immunised herself against scrutiny. Eventually, Rajiv’s claim to honesty became the very cross on which he was crucified in the 1989 elections when the Bofors gun shot the Congress out of power. The lesson to the political class was: don’t claim to be honest, if you really are not so. The hard lesson seems forgotten now by the Gandhi family itself. Sonia Gandhi, instead of following Indira’s safe path, is wrongly caught on Rajiv’s risky steps. The consequences seem to be ominous. Will the politics of 1987 to 1989 repeat?

Following Rajiv and forgetting Indira, Sonia Gandhi proclaimed ‘zero tolerance’ to corruption at a party rally in Allahabad in November 2010. She repeated it at the Congress plenary in Delhi weeks later. Asking the cadre to take the corrupt head on, she said that her party was ‘prompt’ in acting against the corrupt; ‘never spared the corrupt’ because corruption impedes development’. This was almost how Rajiv Gandhi spoke in the Congress centenary in Mumbai 25 years ago. Two crucial differences marked Rajiv away from Sonia. First, when Rajiv claimed to be ‘Mr Clean’, he had no scams to defend against. But, Sonia claims to be honest amidst huge and continuing scams — CWG, Adarsh2G Spectrum allocation scam…. Next, Rajiv had a clean slate to begin with, with no known skeletons in his cupboard till the Bofors scam smashed his ‘Mr Clean’ image. In contrast, Sonia’s slate is full of credible exposures of bribes and pay-offs in billions of dollars secreted in Swiss bank accounts, not counting Quattrocchi‘s millions from Bofors. To make it worse, for almost two decades now, she has not dared to deny the exposures or sue the famous Swiss magazine or the Russian investigative journalist who had put out evidence of bribe against the Sonia family. Seen against this background, Sonia’s vow to act against the corrupt seems like a suspect hooting ‘catch the thief’ and scooting away. This is the main story that unfolds here:

Schweizer Illustrierte: Rajiv Gandhi's bank account in SwitzerlandUS$ 2.2 billions to 11 billions

A stunning exposure on Sonia Gandhi’s secret billions in Swiss banks came, surprisingly, from Switzerland itself, where the world’s corrupt stash away their booty. In its issue of November 19, 1991, Schweizer Illustrierte, the most popular magazine of Switzerland, did an exposé of over a dozen politicians of the third world, including Rajiv Gandhi, who had stashed away their bribe monies in Swiss banks. Schweizer Illustrierte, not a rag, sells some 2,15,000 copies and has a readership of 9,17,000 — almost a sixth of Swiss adult population. Citing the newly opened KGB records, the magazine reported ‘that Sonia Gandhi the widow of the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was controlling secret account with 2.5 billion Swiss Francs (equal to US$2.2 billion) in her minor son’s name’. The US$2.2 billion account must have existed from before June 1988 when Rahul Gandhi attained majority. The loot in today’s rupee value equals almost Indian Rupees 10,000 crore. Swiss banks invest and multiply the clients’ monies, not keep them buried. Had it been invested in safe long-term securities, the US$ 2.2 billion bribe would have multiplied to US$ 9.41 billion (Indian Rupees 42,345 crore) by 2009. If it had been put in US stocks, it would have swelled to US$ 12.97 billion (Indian Rupees 58,365 crore). If, as most likely, it were invested in long-term bonds and stocks as 50:50, it would have grown to US$11.19 billion (Indian Rupees 50,355 crore). Before the global financial meltdown in 2008, the US$ 2.2 billion bribes in stocks would have peaked at US$ 18.66 billion (Indian Rupees 83,900 crore). By any calculation the present size of the US$ 2.2 billion secret funds of the family in Swiss banks seems huge — anywhere between Indian Rupees 43,000 plus to some Indian Rupees 84,000 crore!

Yevgenia AlbatsKGB papers

The second exposé, emanating from the archives of the Russian spy outfit KGB, is far more serious. It says that the Gandhi family has accepted political pay-offs from the KGB — a clear case of treason besides bribe. In her book The State Within a State: The KGB and its Hold on Russia Past, Present, and Future, Yevgenia Albats, an acclaimed investigative journalist, says: “A letter signed by Viktor Chebrikov, who replaced Andropov as the KGB head in 1982 noted: ‘the USSR KGB maintains contact with the son of the Premier Minister Rajiv Gandhi (of India). R Gandhi expresses deep gratitude for the benefits accruing to the Prime Minister’s family from the commercial dealings of the firm he controls in co-operation with the Soviet foreign trade organisations. R Gandhi reports confidentially that a substantial portion of the funds obtained through this channel are used to support the party of R Gandhi’.” (p.223). Albats has also disclosed that, in December 2005, KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov had asked for authorisation from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, “to make payments in US dollars to the family members of Rajiv Gandhi, namely Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Ms Paola Maino, mother of Sonia Gandhi.” And even before Albats’ book came out the Russian media had leaked out the details of the pay-offs. Based on the leaks, on July 4, 1992, The Hindu had reported: “the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service admits the possibility that the KGB could have been involved in arranging profitable Soviet contract for the company controlled by Rajiv Gandhi family”.

Schweizer IllustrierteIndian media

Rajiv Gandhi’s sad demise delayed the Swiss and Russian exposé on Sonia being picked up here. But Indian media’s interest in it actually coincided with Sonia Gandhi assuming leadership of the Congress. A G Noorani, a well-known columnist, had reported on both Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats’ exposés in Statesman (December 31, 1988). Subramanian Swamy had put out the photocopies of the pages of Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats’ book in his website along with the mail of the Swiss magazine dated February 23, 2002 confirming that in its article of November 1991 it had named Rajiv Gandhi with a total of Swiss Franc 2.5 billion ($2.2 billion) in secret account; it had also offered to supply an original copy of the magazine to Swamy. These facts were again recalled in my article in The New Indian Express (April 29, 2009) written in response to Sonia Gandhi speech at Mangalore (April 27, 2009) declaring that, “the Congress was taking steps to address the issue of untaxed Indian money in Swiss banks”. The article had questioned her about her family’s corrupt wealth in Swiss banks in the context of her vow to bring back the monies stashed away abroad. Rajinder Puri, a reputed journalist, has also earlier written on the KGB disclosures in his column on August 15, 2006. Recently, in India Today (December 27, 2010) the redoubtable Ram Jethmalani has referred to the Swiss exposé, asking where is that money now? So the Indian media too has repeatedly published the details of the secret billions of the Gandhi family investigated by the Swiss and Russian journalists. Amal Datta (CPI(M)) had raised the US$ 2.2 billion issue in Parliament on December 7, 1991, but Speaker Shivraj Patil expunged the Gandhi name from the proceedings!

Rahul, Sonia, Robert & Priyanka.Self-incriminating

But, what has been the response of Sonia or Rahul, major after June 1988, to the investigation by Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats and to the Indian media’s repeated references to their investigation? It can be summed up in one word: Silence. Thus, apart from the exposés, the deafening silence of the Gandhis itself constitutes the most damaging and self-incriminating evidence of the family’s guilt. When Schweizer Illustrierte alleged that Sonia had held Rajiv Gandhi’s bribes in Rahul’s name in Swiss banks, neither she nor the son, protested, or sued the magazine, then or later; nor did they sue A G Noorani or Statesman when they repeated it in 1998, or later; nor would they sue Subramanian Swamy when he put it on his website in 2002; neither did they sue me, or the Express when the article was carried in April 2009. When major papers, The Hindu and The Times of India included, had carried the expose on KGB payments in the year 1992 itself adding that the Russian government was embarrassed by the disclosures, neither of the Gandhis challenged or sued them; nor did they sue Yevgenia Albats when she wrote about KGB payments to Rajiv Gandhi in 1994. Neither did they act against Swamy when he put Albats’ book pages on his website or when Rajinder Puri, a well-known journalist, wrote about it in his column on August 15, 2006. However, a feeble but proxy suit was filed by Sonia loyalists to defend her reputation when Albats’ exposé was made part of the full-page advertisement in The New York Times in 2007 issued by some NRIs to ‘unmask’ Sonia to the US audience, as they claimed. The suit was promptly dismissed by a US court because Sonia herself did not dare file the suit. Shockingly even that suit did not challenge the $2.2 billion Swiss account at all!

Imagine that the report in Schweizer Illustrierte or in Albats book was false and Sonia Gandhi did not have those billions in secret accounts in Rahul Gandhi’s name or the family was not paid for its service to the KGB as alleged. How would they, as honest and outraged people, have reacted? Like how Morarji Desai, then retired and old at 87, responded in anger when, Seymour Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, had mentioned in his book that Morarji Desai was a ‘paid’ CIA mole in the Indian Cabinet. Morarji Desai forthwith filed a libel suit. Commenting in The American Spectator, Rael Jean Isaac wrote in 2004, five years after Morarji Desai had passed away, that Hersh habitually indulged in character assassination; and in his attempt to do down Henry Kissinger, Morarji Desai became the victim. Isaac added that Desai, 87, calling it a “sheer mad story”, reacted in outrage with a libel suit seeking US$50 million in damages. When the suit came up, as Desai, 93, was too ill to travel to US, Kissinger testified on Desai’s behalf, flatly contradicted Hersh’s charge and stated that Desai had no connection to the CIA. That is how even retired and old persons, honest and so offended and outraged, would act. But see the self-incriminating contrast, the complete absence of such outrage, in Sonia, who is reigning as the chairperson of the UPA now, neither retired or tired like the nonagenarian Morarji Desai, being just 41 when the story broke out in Schweizer Illustrierte. Imagine, not Sonia or Rahul, but Advani or Modi had figured in the exposés of Schweizer Illustrierte or Albats. What would the media not have done to nail them? What would the government of Sonia not have done to fix them?

Indian black money coming back home!Indian Rupees 20.80 lakh-crore loot

The billions of the Gandhi family being both bribes and monies stashed away in Swiss banks, they are inextricably linked to the larger issue of bringing back the huge national wealth stashed abroad. All world nations, except India, are mad after their black wealth secreted in Swiss and like banks. But India has shown little enthusiasm to track the illicit funds of Indians in Swiss and other banks. Why such reticence?

When during the run-up to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP leader L K Advani promised to bringing back, if voted to power, Indian monies estimated between $500 billion and US$1.4 trillion stashed abroad, the Congress first denied that there was such Indian money outside. But when the issue began gathering momentum, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi had to do damage control and promise that the Congress too would bring back the national wealth secreted abroad. Global Financial Integrity (GFI), a non-profit institution working against global black funds, has recently estimated that the Indian wealth secreted away is about $462 billion, approximately equal to Rs 20.80 lakh-crore. The GFI says that more than two-thirds of it was looted away under the liberalisation regime. This is what the GFI says about the character of the loot: “From 1948 through 2008, India lost a total of $213 billion in illicit financial flows (or illegal capital flight)” through “tax evasion, corruption, bribery and kickbacks, and criminal activities”. Does one need a seer to say under what head would the $2.2 billion in Sonia family’s secret account (which would have grown to $9 to $13 billion by now) fall? But accretions, if any, from the loot in 2G and CWG where the numbers are even bigger are not still accounted. Now comes the more critical, yet practical issue. When the Sonia Gandhi family is among the suspects who have secreted away monies abroad, how will it affect the efforts to bring back the wealth stashed away by others?

Rajiv Gandhi and the Bofors gun.Looters safe

Just a couple of examples will demonstrate how the government is unwilling to go after Indian money secreted abroad. As early as February 2008 the German authorities had collected information about illegal money kept by citizens of different countries in a Lichtenstein bank [LGT Group]. The German finance minister offered to provide the names of the account holders to any government interested in the names of its citizens. There were media reports that some 250 Indian names were found in the Lichtenstein bank list. Yet, despite the open offer from Germany to provide the details, the UPA-II government has never showed interest in the Indian accounts in the Lichtenstein bank. The Times of India reported that “the ministry of finance and PMO have, however, not shown much interest in finding out about those who have their lockers on the secret banks of Liechtenstein which prides itself in its banking system”. But under mounting pressure the Indian government asked for details not under the open offer but strategically under India’s tax treaty with Germany. What is the difference? Under the tax treaty the information received would have to be kept confidential; but, if it were received openly, it can be disclosed to the public. Is any further evidence needed to prove that the government is keen to see that the names of Indians who had secreted monies abroad are not disclosed?

Hasan AliThe second is the sensational case of Hasan Ali, the alleged horse-breeder of Pune, who was found to have operated Swiss accounts involving over Rs 1.5 lakh-crore. The income tax department has levied a tax of Rs 71,848 crore on him for concealing Indian income secreted in Swiss accounts. This case is being buried now. The request sent to the Swiss government was deliberately made faulty to ensure that the Swiss would not provide details. Some big names in the ruling circles are reportedly linked to Hasan Ali. That explains why the government would not deepen the probe. It is Hasan Alis and the like who transport through hawala the bribes of the corrupt from India. If Hasan Ali is exposed, the corrupt will stand naked. This is how the hawala trader and the corrupt in India are mixed-up.

Is it too much to conclude that thanks to Sonia family’s suspected billions in Swiss accounts the system cannot freely probe the US$ 462 billion looted from India at all?

Tail-piece: The total wealth of both Gandhis, as per their election returns, is just Rs 363 lakh, Sonia owning no car. Sonia lamented on November 19, 2010, that graft and greed are on the rise in India!! Rahul said on December 19, 2010, that severe punishment should be given to the corrupt! – Weekly Blitz, Dhaka, 19 September 2012

» Preeta Memon is a correspondent for Weekly Blitz in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Rajiv Gandhi

World Luxury Guide’s List of the World’s Richest Politicians

Name Country Position Wealth
Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Saudi Arabia King $21 billion
Hassanal Bolkiah Brunei Sultan $20 billion
Michael Bloomberg USA Mayor of New York $18.1 billion
Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan United Arab Emirates President (And emir of Abu Dhabi) $18 billion
Vladimir Putin Russia Prime Minister $40 billion
Savitri Jindal India Member of the Legislative Assembly in  Haryana $13.2 billion
Zong Qinghou China Member, National People’s Council $10.8 billion
Serge Dassault France Senator $8 billion
Silvio Berlusconi Italy Member of Parliament $7.8 billion
Hans-Adam II Liechtenstein Prince $4-7.6 billion
Wu Yajun China Member, National People’s Council $6.67 billion
Suleiman Kerimov Russia Member, Federation Council (upper house of Duma / parliament) $5.5 billion
Sonia Gandhi India President, Indian National Congress (political party) $4.5 billion*
Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum United Arab Emirates Prime Minister / Vice President of United Arab Emirates; absolute monarch of Dubai $4.5 billion
Sebastian Piñera Chile President $2.5 billion
Lu Guanqiu China Member, National People’s Council $2.4 billion
Andrei Molchanov Russia Member, Federation Council (upper house of Duma / parliament) $1.8  billion
Kostyantin Zhevago Ukraine Member of Parliament $1.2 billion
Asif Ali Zardari Pakistan President $1-$4 billion
Darrell Issa USA Member, House of Representatives $195-700 million
Michael McCaul USA Member, House of Representatives $258-380 million
Jane Harman USA Member, House of Representatives $160-326 million
John Kerry USA Senator $181-281 million
Sources: Forbes.com, OpenSecrets.org, Bloomberg.com, Wikipedia.org, Guardian.co.uk; Current as of March 2012.
* As listed in Schweizer Illustrierte in 1991 as the alledged wealth of her deceased husband, Rajiv Gandhi.

The danger that is Robert Vadra – John MacLithon

Who is John MacLithon?Sonia Gandhi and her children are willing puppets of particular coteries in the Congress that foist them on a desperate nation. Sonia’s persona of power is a hollow shell in the face of her political immaturity. She merely offers herself as a tragic, trapped Empress, to the Peshwas that run their writ in her name and make huge profits out of it.– John MacLithon

Rahul, Sonia, Robert & Priyanka.Robert Vadra’s meteoric rise is a significant story in the collection of the most shameful stories of independent India. A nonentity, he has risen to the topmost heights of power and wealth by virtue of blatant nepotism.

His marriage into the most famous family in India would not have irked anyone had he not exploited this alliance in such a shameless manner and instead had shown grace and restraint.

The shady story of the Nehru – Gandhi clan continues in as much that Priyanka’s marriage did not redeem the family of its gory legacy. Thus, even while Indira paid for her sins of patronizing secessionists and Rajiv Gandhi the price of the war in Sri Lanka, Robert’s personal family story is as bloodied, yet more gruesome in nature. While his family feuds were well known, his brother was found dead mysteriously, his sister lost her life in an accident and his father subsequently “committed suicide”, again, in mysterious circumstances.

Sonia Gandhi and her children are willing puppets of particular coteries in the Congress that foist them on a desperate nation. Sonia’s persona of power is a hollow shell in the face of her political immaturity. She merely offers herself as a tragic, trapped Empress, to the Peshwas that run their writ in her name and make huge profits out of it.

It is a matter of time before the very family she seeks to protect lands in a worse soup.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra & Robert VadraRobert Vadra’s exceptional financial rise and political declarations show this rising danger. He knows well that the Rahul card has run its course in Indian politics.

Priyanka is probably aware of her husband’s ambitions and possibly fears that.

Robert Vadra has made no attempts to uphold probity in public life. His name stands out as a sore thumb and as a matter of national shame on security check notices across the nation’s airports where he is the only “individual” that is exempt from these checks. Yet, Vadra does not relent.

One wonders whether Mr. Vadra gets an inferiority complex from his wife, a woman, in the way he chooses to publicly display a macho persona and continues to maintain his immoral stand on the issue despite so much controversy.

The current Indian President is a woman and even her husband is not exempt from such checks.

The Military Chiefs of the nation did not enjoy this facility until the controversy raised its ugly head. The only two Field Marshal’s ever in the Indian army did not even figure on the Order of Precedence inasmuch that the funeral of Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw was unattended by senior government office holders.

Vadra’s financial rise has been discussed in Opposition meetings in the Parliament as well. His murky connections with the DLF group have often been cited in the media. These are clear indications of what the nation can expect from him were he to openly enter politics.

Priyanka visiting Nalini, her father’s assassin in prison, was a heart wrenching story; yet the story of her family continues to unfold like a Shakespearean tragedy that threatens to destroy them completely. What is worse is that the nation is paying a huge price too.

Robert VadraOne wonders if the Gandhi’s can ever sum up the courage to resign totally from politics to avoid further hurt to their family, given their grievious personal circumstances. The fear of loss of status, security and imprisonment is the biggest fear. But that fear can be overcome by creating virtue and freedom within the family; a small price for being able to live as decent self-respecting humans. Yet an acute lack of a sense of history evades them.

The hoodlums in Congress are desperate. A rising politically conscious middle class in India coupled with assertive backward castes have forsaken the traditional allegiance of their forefathers to the Congress. The Gandhi family card has run its course as its successors struggle with mediocrity. Convoluted attempts are being made to reverse democratic and economic progress made in the years after Rajiv Gandhi.

Robert Vadra now sounds desperate to take on the mantle of the Gandhi family as this may be his only chance to grab power and to offer that desperate coterie a viable alternate.

The Gandhi’s need to learn as to when, and how, to call it quits. They need to break free of the Congress and their Italian/Catholic advisors that use them. Yet above all, and for their own sake, they need to keep Robert Vadra reined in. – John MacLithon Blog, New Delhi, 24 April 2012

» John MacLithon, believed to be a pseudonym of a correspondent in South Asia of the BBC, is the author of Hindutva, Sex and Adventure, Roli Books, Delhi.

Robert Vadra on Security Check Notice