VK Singh bribe row: Congress fears probe may implicate Rajiv Gandhi

published on March 31, 2012

The Congress is in a tizzy over defence minister AK Antony’s hurry to order a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into army chief VK Singh’s allegations that he was offered a Rs14 crore bribe to clear the purchase of substandard Tatra trucks. The party fears that the probe may open a can of worms as the deal opting for Tatra trucks was signed in 1986 when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister as well as defence minister. Businessman Rajiv Rishi who got the deal to purchase the high-technology Tatra trucks was believed to be a close friend of Gandhi.

Congress leaders are upset that Antony has handed over the bribe allegation case to the CBI without even discussing the issue with party colleagues in the absence of prime minister (PM) Manmohan Singh. He scribbled his directive on the press clipping mentioning the bribery charge and asked the defence ministry to pass the matter to the CBI.

“There is a proper way of ordering a probe. He could have consulted his senior-most colleague Pranab Mukherjee to set the terms and references for the probe,” a visibly upset senior minister told DNA.

In the absence of terms and references, the party fears that the CBI may dig up minute details of the deal and sully Rajiv Gandhi’s name.The Bofors ghost continues to haunt the Congress to date and now, the CBI probe may end up naming Gandhi by probing Gen Singh’s charge that substandard Tatra trucks were bought for exorbitant prices over the years. Though respected in the party for his integrity, Antony may now face the high command’s ire for ordering a probe without examining its implications. “He may be saving himself from facing the wrath of the opposition, but he has made the first family of the ruling party vulnerable,” Congress leaders told DNA.

Sources said Gen Singh’s interview in a newspaper in which he made the bribery allegations enraged Antony so much that he called up the defence secretary from his Parliament house chamber itself and asked him to order a CBI probe. “He did not even call for the files to examine the deal,” sources said.

Congress loyalists are working overtime to ensure the CBI limits its inquiry to the army chief’s bribe allegations and that Rajiv Gandhi’s name does not crop up in connection with the Tatra trucks deal.

Insiders, however, said the defence ministry letter has called for a “comprehensive probe” and therefore, the CBI will be forced to unearth details from the day the proposal to buy Tatra trucks was made.
The probe may also cover how the supplies took place over the years and if any special favour was accorded to its manufacturer over and above the offers made by other competitors. Interestingly, the deal for Tatra trucks was made around the same time when the Bofors deal was inked.

Meanwhile, the government has decided not to touch Gen Singh unless he creates a new problem. Some members of the Congress and the opposition, particularly the JD(U), have sought the army chief’s dismissal following Wednesday’s DNA report about him having written a letter to the PM mentioning the army’s lack of preparedness for war. The PM chaired a meeting on Wednesday and rejected demands to sack the army chief.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said such issues need not be debated in public. He, however, said Antony’s statement declaring India’s full preparedness to take on any eventuality was encouraging and answered all doubts raised by the army chief’s leaked letter.

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