Election 2009 seems to be one of surprising closures. For barely had the Supreme Court ruled that a Special Investigation Team would look into Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s conduct in the Gujarat riots, comes news that the lone surviving suspect in the infamous Bofors cases, Ottavio Quattrocchi, is now off the hook. We can only hope that this will bring to an end the speculation that has revolved around the case that began in 1989. This case began, for many of us who may have forgotten its antecedents, during the time of the V.P. Singh government and the figure that allegedly changed hands at that time was put at Rs 64 crore. The needle of suspicion was always directed at Mr Quattrocchi and several attempts were made to extradite him. The first from Malaysia and the second from Argentina did not materialise due to technical difficulties.
Many may see motives in the fact that this exoneration of Mr Quattrocchi comes very shortly before the UPA government demits office. There is no doubt that the Opposition will make heavy weather of this. But the point remains that our investigative agencies have not been able to affix guilt on any particular party with regard to the Bofors case. Mr Quattrocchi has been under investigation for over 20 years. The late Prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, suffered a setback in an election in which the Bofors issue figured quite significantly. The dismissal of the case comes in the wake of a legal opinion submitted by the Attorney General Milon Banerji.
Of course, this does not mean that the matter will end here and anyone could be free to open up the case. And this must be welcomed. The fact that these cases, long in the pipeline, have come up time and again in public shows the merit of our democratic institutions and our vibrant civil society. The Bofors scandal is one among many that have rocked our polity over the years. Justice has been very delayed in many cases but definitely not denied. Mr Quattrocchi being delinked from the Bofors case may not go down well in this election time, but for many Indians, it is one step towards closing the door on a painful period from the past.