Revelation contained in Kissinger-era documents obtained by WikiLeaks

Much before he became Prime Minister, during his years as an Indian Airlines pilot, Rajiv Gandhi may have been a middleman for the Swedish company Saab-Scania, when it was trying to sell its Viggen fighter aircraft to India in the 1970s.

The astonishing revelation that he was the “main Indian negotiator” for a massive aircraft deal for which his “family” connections were seen as valuable, is contained in the Kissinger Cables, the latest tranche of U.S diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and accessed by The Hindu as part of an investigative collaboration. The cables will be released on Monday.

The British SEPECAT Jaguar eventually won the race, from which Saab was forced to withdraw by the U.S.

Rajiv Gandhi, who kept away from politics until he was pushed into it by his mother Indira after the death of his brother Sanjay in 1980, came into public life with a squeaky clean image. Years later, a controversy over bribes paid in another military deal with a different Swedish company, Bofors, was to lead to Rajiv’s and the Congress’s defeat in the 1989 elections.

A series of 41 cables between 1974 and 1976 give glimpses into the “fighter sweepstakes” in India, with one wryly observing that the Swedish company had “understood the importance of family influences in the final decision in the fighter sweepstakes.”

Dassault, the French aircraft maker, too had figured this out. According to the cable, their negotiator for the Mirage fighter aircraft was the son-in-law of Air Marshal O.P. Mehra, then Air Chief.

An October 21, 1975 cable from the New Delhi U.S. Embassy (1975NEWDE14031_b, confidential) details information given to it by a diplomat in the Swedish Embassy. “Mrs Gandhi’s oler [sic] son’s only association with the aircraft industry (to our knowledge) has been as a pilot for Indian Airlines and this is the first time we have heard his name as entrepreneur.”

Having noted what the Swedes had said, the cable makes the comment that there was no additional information to either refute or confirm the information.

The cable goes on to say, “Mrs Gandhi (according to the Swedish info) has made the personal decision not to purchase the British Jaguar because of her prejudices against the British. The decision would be between the Mirage [Dassault Mirage F1] and the Viggen.”

Importance of ‘family’

In another cable (1976NEWDE00845_b, confidential) , the Swedes also made it clear they “understood the importance of family influences” in the final decision.

The cable adds: “Our colleague describes Ranjiv Gandhi [sic] in flattering terms, and contends his technical expertise is of a high level. This may or may not be. Offhand, we would have thought a transport pilot [is] not the best expert to rely upon in evaluating a fighter plane, but then we are speaking of a transport pilot who has another and perhaps more relevant qualification.”

The first cable adds that Air Marshal Mehra’s son-in-law was the chief negotiator for the competing Mirage, but it does not give his name.

Contacted in New Delhi,… (Continued on Page 11)

Revelation contained in Kissinger-era documents obtained by WikiLeaks

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