'Distress' and 'regret'
By S Gurumurthy
20 Feb 2011
That leaks make news is well known. More sensitive the leaks more shocking the news. The alleged 'apology' of L K Advani to Sonia Gandhi to the Bharatiya Janata Party task force report on black money abroad saying that she held secret Swiss bank accounts was indeed a stunner. The leak shocked the BJP to grief, surprised the Congress to joy, and bewildered the media to splits. A plain reading of Advani's letter shows that he has not regretted for the task force report mentioning Sonia's name at all. Yet, thanks to the media spin, the whole country believes he has.
Here is the story of the 'regret'. The task force of the BJP consisting of four specialists — Ajit Doval, a security expert, Prof Vaidyanathan, a financial expert, Mahesh Jethmalani, a senior lawyer and myself, an experienced chartered accountant — had submitted a meticulous report, running to almost 100 pages, on the black money stashed away abroad. Citing two unbiased sources, the task force report had said that Sonia Gandhi family reportedly held huge funds in Swiss banks. This should have made big national news; but it did not. Why?
The Delhi media in strength had attended the release of the task force report by the tall leaders of the BJP and National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) on February 1; but it hardly reported either the news or the contents of the report. That the task force had mentioned the name of Sonia Gandhi was presumed to be the reason for the self-censorship of the Delhi media. But, ironically, what the release of the task force report could not achieve, the leak of the 'apology' letter seems to be achieving. The clever leak of Advani's letter, intended to abort any discussion on Sonia Gandhi family's alleged Swiss bank accounts, has inevitably drawn her into it. Because, as the Delhi media discusses what the 'apology' is for, it is forced
to refer to the Swiss account of Sonia Gandhi family mentioned in the task force report.
The report cited two independent, credible sources for the alleged secret Swiss accounts and other secret funds of the Sonia Gandhi family. The first was an exposure in the most popular news magazine of Switzerland, Schweizer Illustrierte (November 11, 1991). The Swiss magazine had alleged that some 14 leaders of third world countries had stashed away their bribes in Swiss banks; the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with $2.2 billions in secret accounts was one of them. The next was a research book, based on the declassified KGB documents, written by Yuvegina Albats, a Russian journalist. The KGB documents cited by Albats said that, in the year 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, he had expressed gratefulness to the KGB for financial favours shown to the Gandhi family. The task force report had also pointed out that A G Noorani, well-known columnist, first wrote about these exposes in The Statesman newspaper in 1988; later, Subramanian Swamy put out the photocopies of the Swiss magazine and the extracts of Albats' book in the Janata Party website from 2001; subsequently, well-known columnist Rajinder Puri wrote about Albats' expose in his column in 2005; afterwards, I wrote
about it in detail in the year 2009 and again in January this year in The New Indian Express; finally, Ram Jethmalani wrote
on it in India Today. The task force pointed out that the Gandhi family did not contest nor dare sue any of the writers or publishers in or outside India. It had also contrasted their silence with how Morarji Desai, when he was 87, filed a $50 million damages suit in US when Seymour Hersh wrote in his book that Desai was a CIA agent, disproved the charge and saved his and the nation's honour. The task force asked why the Gandhi family did not emulate Desai to establish the honour of Rajiv Gandhi and the nation. The task force had also pointed out that to make the matters worse, when an advertisement containing the alleged Swiss accounts in Sonia family name was issued in The New York Times issued by some NRIs at the time of Sonia Gandhi's visit to US in 2008, the Indian National Overseas Congress sued for $100 millions in damages to defend the honour of Sonia Gandhi but did not contest the allegation about Swiss money; and it also withdrew the suit!
After the task force report was released, on February 15, Sonia Gandhi wrote a secret, not open, letter to Advani expressing her disappointment at a person of his stature releasing the task force report of the BJP endorsing what she called as "scurrilous allegations" against her family, which she had treated with "contempt". Are the exposes of Schweizer Illustrierte and Albats scurrilous? On February 16, expressing happiness at her denial of the allegations, Advani said that had she denied it earlier the task force would have factored it in its report. He concluded, "Even so, I deeply regret the distress caused to you", which made the Congress to gloat over. Explicitly, it is no regret for the report mentioning her family's alleged Swiss accounts. A dignified regret for the personal distress has been turned into a political apology.
The task force has asserted that it is the author of the report. The BJP or NDA could accept or reject its report. But, they considered the report, accepted and released it. The task force members have reiterated that they stand by every word of their report including about the alleged secret funds of the Sonia Gandhi family based on the sources cited. The task force is an independent body of domain specialists. It has castigated all political parties and all political leaders as lacking in credibility, thus not sparing the BJP, which had sought its views. The leak has only helped to confirm the independence of the task force. And more, it has also helped to lift the self-censorship of the Delhi media and open the alleged Sonia Gandhi family Swiss accounts for public debate
S Gurumurthy is a well-known commentator on political and economic issues