The cables that were recently released by WikiLeaks portray Rajiv Gandhi as a middleman, an implication the Congress has denied by discrediting WikiLeaks. But the report of the Shah Commission, which investigated the excesses of the Emergency, too, points to Rajiv Gandhi’s inordinate interest in the affairs of Indian Airlines, as well as Indira Gandhi’s intervention on behalf of Boeing during the Emergency
OFF THE RADAR The Shah Commission report raises questions about Rajiv Gandhi’s involvement in the Boeing deal of 1977 (Photo: INDIAN EXPRESS ARCHIVES)
The Kissinger Cables detailing Rajiv Gandhi’s role as a middleman in an aircraft deal have been met with scepticism by the Congress, which dismisses the cables as baseless and unverified. But what has gone unnoticed in the controversy is that there is independent evidence totally unconnected to the cables thatis not baseless and is in fact verified, which suggests that his role during the Emergency was not restricted to flying aircrafts for Indian Airlines.
The report of the Shah Commission, set up to probe administrative excesses during the Emergency, has examined in detail the ‘Decision process leading to the purchase of three Boeing 737 aircraft by Indian Airlines’ and concluded that ‘the manner in which the deal was pushed through suffers from several infirmities’. One of the infirmities noted in the report is that ‘The visit of Shri Rajiv Gandhi to the office of the Chairman of Indian Airlines, where he was shown the financial projections by the Director of Finance, apparently under the instruction of the Chairman, was a procedure totally outside the ordinary course of business.’ After this meeting, the report notes, the Prime Minister’s Office, through Indira Gandhi’s all-powerful secretary RK Dhawan, intervened on several occasions to speed up the award of the deal to Boeing.
The sections 7.186 to 7.203 related to the deal in the Shah Commission report make for interesting reading, especially in light of the recent news gleaned from the Kissinger cables. They seem to have escaped notice largely because the Shah Commission report was almost successfully removed from the public eye after Indira Gandhi came to power. It was only in 2010 that veteran Parliamentarian Era Sezhiyan republished the report based on a copy that had been lying with him.
The deal in question has already been dealt with in some detail because it figures with some prominence in the cables, but news reports have focused on the role of Sanjay Gandhi. A US Embassy cable dated 7 July 1976 notes that a ‘British Aircraft Corporation team that visited India to compete agains(t) Dutch and American aircraft suppliers was approached and offered the assistance of the Maruti company, a firm controlled by Sanjay Gandhi’. The competition for this deal was among BAC 111-474, Boeing’s 737-200 and the Dutch Fokker’s F-28 Mark 4000.