It was a December morning in Delhi when news came that the CBI case in Malaysia for the extradition of Ottavio Quattrocchi of Bofors fame (or notoriety) had collapsed, and the Italian was now free to go where he wished. Not surprisingly, the millionaire businessman flew to safety in Italy, and although afterwards there was a formal effort to get him extradited from Argentina in 2007, it was clear from the start that he would go free. And he did, never again to be harassed by the ineffectual and indeed comical efforts by investigative and police agencies in India to apprehend him and bring him back for trial in India. Ultimately, the Bofors scandal that played such a keystone role in the defeat of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress Party in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, ended in farce, with no conviction being sustained. Each of those who had benefited from the purchase of the Swedish howitzer smiled all the way to the bank, as the CBI as well as the Law Ministries during the time of Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh failed to ensure justice. Indeed, even during the period when the man whose Prime Ministership was because of Bofors, was in power, nothing was done to ensure accountability. V.P. Singh emitted a lot of hot air about Bofors throughout his separation from the Congress Party, but little else. Indeed, his close confidant Arun Nehru was among those known to be at the core of the decision-making process, which led to the purchase of the Swedish artillery weapon, although that was not allowed to stand in the way of Nehru joining the V.P. Singh Cabinet as the minister closest to the Bofors Raja, as Singh was sometimes called by his intimates. While it was to be expected that Manmohan Singh would not expend particular effort in securing the transfer of Quattrocchi to Tihar, it was a disappointment to supporters of Vajpayee that his government failed to bring back a fugitive from Indian justice who should not have been allowed to calmly leave the country in 1991, when P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister and Margaret Alva looked after matters concerning the CBI. From that period onwards, the reputation of Vajpayee in terms of voter backing began to slide, so much so that in 2004, he lost to Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha polls, much to his shock. After that, it was only in 2014 under Narendra Modi that the BJP returned to power.
The BJP is a very tolerant party, and those who were at the helm of affairs during the Malaysian fiasco were left unharmed. Indeed, many rose still further in both politics as well as the law, their failure in Kuala Lumpur forgotten. As for the media, close questioning is not in the DNA of mainstream media in India, which remains in thrall to the sarkari historian penchant for glorifying leaders and in describing even their mistakes as triumphs. It should have generated attention that the very CBI which under Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda succeeded in convincing the Swiss authorities of wrongdoing in the Bofors case, failed to satisfy the Malaysian and later the Argentinian court. However, even in the CBI, careers were only boosted, rather than damaged by the failure to extradite Quattrocchi, our country being an example of a nation whose leaders celebrate mediocrity and its attendant failures.
Again on a December morning, this time in 2017, the CBI and the Law Officers of the BJP-led government have failed to convince a judge of the correctness of their case, this time against the accused in the 2G matter. It can no longer be described as a scam, because the CBI Special Court judge has found each of the accused not guilty. Just as the Quattrocchi verdict in Malaysia had a cascading (if somewhat silent) impact on the credibility of the BJP and on public confidence in its efficacy at rooting out corruption, the 2G acquittal of the accused is likely to similarly build up in the minds of voters in a way that will not be favourable to the BJP in the Lok Sabha polls. Already, there is much speculation as to why none of the UPA era heavyweights have been proceeded against by the NDA government, not even former Cabinet ministers known to have enriched themselves enormously, including by use of the stock market to first boost up share prices through public policies and announcements and subsequently get the LIC and other state institutions to buy at that elevated price. Thus far, such deeds have gone unpunished, and the 2G verdict shows that this will remain the case in the future.