By George, hamaam mein sab nange hain

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: Like a mischievous poltergeist, the Bofors spectre periodically surfaces, knocks around, and noisily rattles India’s ramshackle political shop, and fades away after amusing itself for some time.

And then the Indian media fixated with the Big O, ejaculates—on an unsuspecting, trusting audience—a stream of fact and fiction. In all its perversity, the ritual seems to occur year after year after year.

The Big O, Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, probably catching up on pasta and old Italian movies, is according to a news report,  nestled “in a service apartment in Callo”  (And you thought only the software types lived in it!)

Allowing him rest and recreation is India’s benign law enforcement agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation which claims “Industry, Integrity and Impartiality” as the cornerstone of its functioning.

Look at the irony: The CBI was established in 1941 to “investigate cases of bribery and corruption in transactions with the War & Supply Department”. One would like to believe, that cracking corruption in an arms deal like Bofors should lie within its core competence and should have happened almost effortlessly.

And this morning, the Poltergeist strikes again….

From the most unlikely of locations, the serene Himalayan kingdom of Dharamsala, a desperate politician seeks to reinforce his relevance. Former Defence Minister George Fernandes accuses his one-time ally and former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee of  telling him not to touch the Bofors file when he was in office.

How our politicians forget that their every word is captured on tape is beyond human comprehension but Fernandes has since denied sayng such a thing and our TV channels have dutifully lost no time in refreshing his memory.

Regardless of the denial, the statement obviously raises some fundamental questions on George’s timing and sincerity of purpose. (The other argument could be on Atal’s own pernicious motivation. Churumuri readers can debate that.)

Interestingly, the saffron party mouthpiece BJP Today (May 1-15, 2003) had reported Fernandes’ speech at an NDA rally in New Delhi on March 29 of that year.

Contrary to his Dharamshala pronouncements, Fernandes was particularly effusive of his leader. The report says:

“Paying handsome compliments to Atalji for leading the NDA through many vicissitudes, most of which were not known to the people, Shri Fernandes also mentioned in this connection the skill displayed by the Prime Minister in dealing with the Kargil invasion by Pakistan. Similar political sagacity had been demonstrated in dealing with other matters, the Defence Minister said. He also paid compliments to the Prime Minister for his statements on Iraq (saying war would not solve the problem) and said that the world was now looking towards Atalji for hammering out a solution to the Iraq crisis.”

With the BJP probably gearing up for a counter-offensive; the Big O will not happen anytime soon. Unseen, the poltergeist has made itself comfortable on the speaker’s table in the Lok Sabha. Let’s wait and see what tricks it is up to in the ensuing days.

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So why has Fernandes made the claim now? Do you believe him? If so, who was Vajpayee trying to protect? The Hinduja brothers? Are the BJP’s hands as messy as the Congress’ in the Bofors deal? Or is all this just theatrics that will bring us no closer to The Truth, such as it may be?