In politics, there are no rules. The opposition has every right -- fair and foul -- to hunt down a rival. But it would be interesting to get the sequence of the Bofors drama right. It was a drama which looked like a crime thriller but soon it became a labyrinth without an an exit or an end or a conclusion. There never was any conclusive evidence either in India or in Sweden or in Switzerland. The Swedish authorities did not really prove their case on their home ground against Bofors. The company came under cloud, it was closed, changed hands. It is now a subsidiary of an American company.
Several things have to be made clear on the Indian side. The Bofors gun deal story was not broken by Indian journalists. It would be interesting to know whether the Bofors deal would have come to light if there was no hint of it in the Swedish radio report. It can be argued that V.P.Singh, the very ambitious politician who wanted to become prime minister using honesty as a weapon -- there is nothing wrong in this kind of moral crusade to edge out political rivals -- had started defence inquiries as soon as he was shifted to the defence ministry from the finance ministry. As finance minister, he conducted raids against all the big corporates. He was an honest man. As defence minister he had ordered inquiry into the HDW submarine deal. Perhaps he would have ordered an inquiry into the Bofors deal as well without any help from the Swedish radio report.
The Indian journalists had jumped on to the story because the prime target was not corruption in defence deals per se but Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi is a legitimate target both for journalists and opposition parties.
It is in this anxiety to get Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian journalists goofed up. They did not want to look at what was happening in defence purchases because no one was interested in it. That is why, they were not interested in evidence. They collected all those piles of files about so-called secret accounts and published with great fanfare. After the first few days, the readers of The Hindu and The Indian Express were simply bored. But the politicians and the little band of brave journalists kept at it, without losing sight of their target Rajiv Gandhi. The politicians and journalists coined the catchy phrase ''gali gali mein shor hain rajiv gadhi chor hain". Of course, they could not be blamed. In politics, every foul thing is fair. Communist parties, the communalist BJP, the communalist and communist minded journalists did a good job of raising the pitch of the chorus that Rajiv Gandhi was the culprit. They proclaimed they had evidence and that there is no need for further proof. When Rajiv Gandhi lost the 1989 election and Congress still remained the single largest party and Rajiv Gandhi was invited by president R.Venkataraman to form the government and he refused, the National Front comprising the motley crowd led by the honest V.P.Singh and supported by the communists and communalists, formed the government, but the politicians and journalists jumped around with glee that the truth of Bofors has been nailed and that Rajiv Gandhi was guilty and that it was a mere formality of going through the legal process. They were not willing to admit that what was being bandied about as evidence was a prosecution dossier, which still had to be established as truth in a court of law. But the process was too long. So, most journalists concluded that Rajiv Gandhi was guilty and that they have done their job. Two of them had been rewarded by V.P.Singh with a Padma Vibhushan award.
But the Bofors story continues because it is the most useful weapon to beat the Congress and the Nehru-Gandhis with. A BJP leader had admitted at last that "Bofors is a closed chapter," and that at this moment it would not bring the down the roof. The Bofors deal remains a mere scandal because no one -- politicians as well as journalists -- is bothered about crime and investigation.