Explosive revelations: Did Sonia Gandhi influence probe against 'Tehelka'?
In her new autobiography, former Samata Party president Jaya Jaitly has alleged Congress' Sonia Gandhi tried to influence a probe against 'Tehelka'. A 'Tehelka' expose on corruption in defense deals had led to the fall of then defense minister George Fernandes and then BJP president Bangaru Laxman. Sonia had apparently tried to stop the "harassment" of directors of First Global, financiers of 'Tehelka'.
In 2001, 'Tehelka' journalists conducted a sting operation and caught officials on camera accepting bribes for facilitating defense deals. In the aftermath, Fernandes resigned, Laxman was convicted, and key officials of the Defense Ministry and army suspended. Jaitly, Fernandes's acquaintance, also resigned over allegations that she had taken Rs. 2,00,000 from the journalists. But she maintained they were "dubious tapes accumulated by dubious characters".
Following the scandal, various investigative agencies launched an alleged witch hunt against First Global promoters Devina Mehra and Shankar Sharma: their offices were closed down, bank accounts frozen, and they were detained at least thrice. After the UPA came to power in 2004, they wrote to Sonia alleging "covert and surreptitious" harassment. We have no recourse left but to write to you for redressal.
Taking action, Sonia had written to then finance minister P Chidambaram, saying "this matter has already been discussed…and certain corrective measures have been agreed to". She requested him to look into First Global's allegations "on priority" and ensure "no unfair and unjust treatment" to them.
Jaitly alleges Congress, then the opposition, was the ultimate beneficiary of the 'Tehelka' sting. She recollects her meeting with alleged arms middleman Christian Michel, who reportedly bragged about helping former PM PV Narasimha Rao spy on Sonia. He also offered Jaitly a chance to make a "huge pile of money". She was unhappy she had been forced to resign despite having done nothing wrong.
Reacting to the revelations, Chidambaram asked media to "ask the government to release (his) reply to the letter". "I am certain I would have sent a reply based on the material put up to me. Gandhi's letter and my reply should be read together."
BJPs Subramanian Swamy says since Sonia wrote the letter on an official National Advisory Council letterhead, ED could file a money laundering case while CBI can charge her under the preventional corruption act. Chidambaram and Manmohan Singh are equally culpable for assisting in the crime, he added. Jaitly's autobiography, 'Life among the Scorpions: Memoirs of a Woman in Indian Politics', releases on November 7.