June 24 1989: A Majority of Opposition Members in the Lok Sabha Resign on the Issue of the CAG Report on the Bofors Gun Deal.

 On June 24th 1989, a majority of opposition members resigned from the Lok Sabha on the issue of the CAG report on the Bofors gun deal.

The Bofors Scam was a serious corruption scandal which rocked India in the 1980s and 1990s and included the names of many prominent Congress politicians including the then Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi. Politicians involved in the scam had been accused of receiving bribes from Bofors (a Swedish weapon manufacturer) so that they could win a bid to supply India with a 155 mm Field Howitzer (a heavy weapon of war used by the army).

The scam was the most deplorable of its kind, which ultimately led to the defeat of the ruling Congress party in the 1989 general elections. Investigations into the matter revealed that top Congress politicians and defence officials had received $12 million as bribes. This scandal came out in the open during the tenure of Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s term as Defence Minister and was unveiled by investigative journalists and N. Ram of The Hindu newspaper.

Chitra Subramanium, a journalist with The Hindu was instrumental in collecting over 350 documents which contained details of the bribes. These articles were later published in national dailies like The Indian Express and The Statesman. The Hindu had stopped publishing articles related to the Bofors because of enormous pressure from the government. Chitra Subramanium had also moved to another newspaper in the meantime. In an interview on the 25th anniversary of the revelation of the scam, Sten Lindstrom, former chief of Swedish police, disclosed why he had revealed the documents to Subramanium.

It all began in 1986, when India signed a $1.4 billion deal with Bofors for the supply of over 400 150mm Howitzers. By 1987, the Swedish Radio had said that Bofors had paid bribes to top Indian defence officials and politicians to secure the deal. Prime Minsiter Rajiv Gandhi denied all the allegations. The opposition forced the Congress to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee to investigate the allegations. Being embroiled in this scandal led the Congress to lose the 1989 general elections and Rajiv Gandhi was replaced by V.P Singh as the Prime Minister. Singh went on to ban Bofors from engaging in any defence deals with India. After years of naming people and charge sheets of the accused being drawn up, in 2009 (twenty years after the scam was made public), a few of the accused in this case were given temporary relief from this case. This was due to lack of sufficient evidence. The case is still going on.

The Comptroller Auditor General (CAG), an authority established by the Government of India who audits all receipts and expenditures of the government of India, was asked to look into the Bofors scam and prepare a report on it. The report generated by the CAG mentioned "Ammunition worth Rs.328.98 crores" was ordered after "diluting" the "minimum acceptable parameters”. The assessment of costs leading to Bofors getting this contract was also rather vague.

The report also pointed out the delay in delivery of the ammunition and the report mentions "slippages in deliveries in respect of certain essential items upto 72 weeks.”

After this report was generated, it was suggested that the report be discussed. The opposition refused to this, saying that the CAG was not an officer of the Parliament and was an independent constitutional authority. Another reason was the fact that report of the CAG are automatically referred to the Committee on Public Accounts, who investigate further and submit their findings. It is only then that a parliamentary discussion can take place.

The reason the government wanted a discussion was to reprimand the office and the person of the CAG and not so much to clarify what had happened during the Bofors scam. The discussion was not permitted since the Parliament is considered a protector of the constitution and could in no way double up to be a destroyer of the constitution. When the suggestion to discuss the report was not paid attention to, for the first time since independence, the entire opposition resigned from the Lok Sabha.

Despite the enormous controversy the Bofors scam kicked up in India, the Bofors gun was used extensively in the Kargil war against Pakistan and, if battlefield commanders are to be believed, gave India a definite edge over Pakistan.


Also On This Day:

1763 - Murshidabad is captured by the East India Company and Mir Jafar is declared King.

1961 - India manufactures supersonic fighter HF24 flies for the first time.

1986 - The government announces that unmarried mothers under its employment scheme would also get maternity leave.

1990 - Defense scientists successfully test fire the country's first third generation anti-tank missile 'NAG'. 

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