Bofors has often been likened to Banquo's ghost. However, the Rs. 64 crore howitzer pay-off scandal would make a better comparison with James Cameron's Terminator series, judging by its ability to surprise and startle even after the curtain has been rung down. Indeed, the more the Congress has shut the doors on Bofors, the more it has returned to embarrass the party. A quarter century after the bribery allegations broke over Swedish radio and were followed up in painstaking detail by The Hindu, the case has officially reached a dead end. The dramatis personae of the period, including Rajiv Gandhi who lost an election to the scam, have passed away, while in March last year a Delhi court allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation to withdraw charges against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi. Curiously, just months earlier, an Indian tax tribunal held that commissions had been paid into the accounts of Mr. Quattrocchi and middleman Win Chadha. Not surprisingly, Mr. Q's incredible luck with the law only served to strengthen the suspicion that he was involved and had been hustled to safety by an Indian government worried about where the trail would end.
Now, Bofors and Mr. Q are back in the news. In an interview to Chitra Subramaniam, then The Hindu's Geneva correspondent, Sten Lindstrom revealed himself to be the man who blew the whistle on the scandal. Mr. Lindstrom, who was Sweden's police chief at the time, made two points of political interest. First that there was no material evidence to show Rajiv Gandhi had taken a bribe. Second, there was conclusive evidence against the Italian businessman who had escaped being nailed because Indian investigators had deliberately mishandled the case. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party grabbed the story but to make opposite points. The Congress latched on to the part about its leader being in the clear while for the BJP, the most important revelation was confirmation of Mr. Q's role: The long-suspected “Italian connection” had finally and irrevocably been proved. In truth, the interview offers neither party any reason to celebrate. Thanks to 2G and other scams, the public perception of the Congress is of a party steeped in corruption. It can do without Mr. Quattrocchi turning up at the party's doorstep. The BJP can rejoice at its rival's fate, but it must answer questions on its own failure while in office to pursue the case and secure the Italian middleman's conviction. Earlier, V.P. Singh named Rajiv Gandhi as a beneficiary but was unable to prove the charge as Prime Minister. The fact is that not one government comes out unscathed from l'affaire Bofors.