Right Wing Konspiracy Theories – Arun Shourie in 1979

Blogger’s Note: As a person who likes cross checking every assertion, I have been always fascinated by the *Right Wing Conspiracies* like CDTD or the D4. In this context read this article written by Arun Shourie in June 1979.

Sloth, Lunacy or Conspiracy?

The last week of March, 1977. The Janata leaders are heady with success; they, not the people, have defeated the Indira regime; their sagacity, their shrewdness, their mass base not the suffering, the silent anger of the people have toppled the Emergency regime.

Heady, they have begun quarrelling over the Prime Ministership, over portfolios, over which Minister is to get which of the spacious bungalows they have so recently sworn not to occupy.

Four men carry valuables in a van to Indira Gandhi’s farm near Mehrauli on the outskirts of Delhi. With the help of labourers who are constructing the yet incomplete farm house of our Lady of Hope the valuables are buried at six places in the compound of the farm. In addition one large steel almirah (5 feet by 2 feet by 6 feet) is buried in a room the flooring of which has not yet been completed.

A female labourer makes an inconspicuous mark in the room where the almirah has been buried. She also notes the six places in the compound.

Later that evening she visits the pradhan of the village (he is a BLD sympathiser) and gives an account of the sort of things that have been buried and the places at which they have been buried.

The pradhan waits for things to settle down in Delhi. In April C.V. Narsimhan replaces D. Sen as Director, CBI. The pradhan goes to Narsimhan in the last week of May and gives him the details that he has learnt.

Narsimhan makes perfunctory inquiries. Nothing is done.

The pradhon runs from pillar to post with the information. A full year and two months pass. Instead of investigating the information he is giving them, officials ascribe motives to him … he has this bee in his pugri, they reassure each other; he is just trying to curry favour with the new government, they say.

June 1978. The matter reaches Morarji, who is also looking after the Home portfolio now. He asks the Intelligence Bureau to get to the bottom of the matter.

The Intelligence Bureau sets out to locate other witnesses who can corroborate what the female labourer has said. Its investigators learn that the man who had assembled the labourers to construct the farm house is dead. The labourers had come from different places and cannot now be traced. However, two had come from the neighbourhood. Efforts are made to trace them. They too have died.

The Bureau then sets out to devise a plan for actual physical verification. A way has to be found for someone who knows metal detection work to enter the compound and the house itself. To start with, the farm is put under 24-hour surveillance.

The son of a head constable in the IB is selected as he has done M.Sc. in Physics. He is sent for training in metal detection work to the National Geo-Physical Laboratory, Hyderabad. The training takes one month. (Don’t ask me why someone already familiar with metal detection work was not picked from another department like Customs, BSF, etc.)

The young man returns from Hyderabad in early August. A compact metal detector is procured. By an ingenious plan devised with the help of a small band close to George Fernandes, the young man is able to spend two full hours inside the farm house on August 31, 1978.

The metal detector’s readings are, to quote a Cabinet Minister familiar with the case, “strongly positive”. (The investigation is done only inside the house so as not to alert the mali-cum-chowkidar).

The results are fully reported the very next day at a meeting. The meeting is attended by N. Mukerji, Cabinet Secretary, T. C. A. Srinivasavardhan, Home Secretary, V.V. Badami, Chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes, John Lobo (who has taken over as Director, CBI, in November 1977), Raj Deo Singh {who has been appointed Special Director, CBI, in May 1978), S. N. Mathur, Director, Intelligence Bureau, and V. V. Nagarkar, Joint Director, IB.

The Intelligence Bureau officers strongly urge that a raid should be ordered forthwith. Others hedge and haw.

The matter, therefore, is left with Badami, the Chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes, and the Inspection Directorate under him. His vigilant departments send their independent investigators to begin the investigation ab initio. Instead of winning the confidence of the witnesses, the Income Tax worthies threaten and intimidate them.

The frightened witnesses, including the village pradhan, rush to George Fernandes, “is this what your government does to people who risk their lives to give you information?” He summons officials from the Intelligence Bureau. These officials give him their long tale of woe, of the rebuff their efforts have met.

By now Chikmagalur is in the air. The Finance Minister rules that the raid should be postponed till after the election on the ground that the government cannot afford another abortive, infructuous sally at Mrs Gandhi. The raid is, therefore, fixed for November 6, 1978, the day after the Chikmagalur  polling.

It is to be organised by Raj Deo Singh, Special Director, CBI,

with the assistance of the Inspection Directorate.

November 5: The raid is mysteriously deferred to December 29. Raj Deo Singh, in particular, suddenly says that he is not quite sure whether he has the authority to conduct the raid. (He arrives at these doubts after reflecting on the matter for five months.) Someone says that high-ups in the government feel that the raid should be postponed as a raid so soon after what is certain to be Indira Gandhi’s Chikmaga1ur victory will appear to be vindictive.

Intelligence Bureau officials knock their heads at other doors. Frustrated and fed up, they send a long memorandum on November 18 to the Cabinet and Home Secretaries listing the enormous amount of information they have furnished about secret accounts, about the farm and a host of other matters, none of which has been acted upon. Can something not be done, for heaven’s sake?

They are mollified. After all, the raid has already been scheduled for December 29. Won’t you bear with us? In fact, as plans for the raid are in the final stages, please furnish a detailed floor plan of the house and the farm with the places having the buried stuff marked clearly.

But these have been furnished long ago.

Yes, I know, but please go over them again and ensure that every detail you know is incorporated.

The new maps as well as a detailed write-up are furnished to the Special Director, CBI, Raj Deo Singh, on December 21.

On December 23 the National Herald carries a report on its front page that officials of “Government intelligence agencies” are keeping a 24-hour watch around Mrs Gandhi’s farm.

Intelligence Bureau officials rush to the Home Secretary with the news item: her people know what is going on, we should raid immediately. No, no, we should not panic. There is no reason to advance the date of the raid from December 29. But one thing you should do is to withdraw the surveillance. After all, we don’t want some paper to publish photographs of your men standing around the farm.

The surveillance is thus withdrawn for a fortnight.

On December 28, the raid is once again postponed for inexplicable reasons. Not December 29, Special Director Raj Deo Singh decrees, but January 5.

January 4: Raj Deo Singh suddenly says he wants to once again meet the young man who had done the metal detection work. But you have already met him; he has already briefed you and everyone else. Yes but I want to meet him again; there are some points I want clarified.

In the event the raid set for the next day is again postponed; this time no new date is set for the raid.

Raj Deo Singh again interrogates the young man. After this session he expresses full satisfaction at the method by which the detection has been done. But he still does not set any date for the raid.

January 8: the fortnight over, IB recommences its surveillance of the farm.

Meanwhile the pradhan of the village has been contacted by the Manipur Emergency Excesses Commission. He testifies before it on January 17 and blurts out what he knows about the buried items and about how the government has completely failed to act for a year and a half.

On January 18 Delhi papers report his testimony.

Intelligence Bureau officials rush to the Home Secretary.

They implore him to order an immediate raid as the information is out in the public.

They are told that the matter will be considered with the urgency it deserves.

8 a.m., January 19, 1979: the Director or the Joint Director, intelligence Bureau (I have not been able to pinpoint which of the two) receives a phone call from one of the IB men at the farm. Two young men arrived in a car (DLY-l) half an hour ago, he is told. They have begun digging in the farm.

The IB officers rush to the Home Secretary and they contact Raj Deo Singh, Special Director, CBI: for heaven’s sake, let us raid the damned place now, at least; Sanjay’s men are digging the stuff out at this very moment. No need to panic, says the unflappable Home Secretary, at least we now know the IB information is correct. Let us all meet in my office at 11 a.m. sharp.

The 11 o’clock meeting commences. The group that had met on September 1, 1978 is again in session, barring the Cabinet Secretary. Srinivasavardhan, Home Secretary, Badami, Chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Lobo, Director, CBI, Raj Deo Singh, Special Director, CBI, Mathur, Director, IB, Nagarkar, Joint Director, IB, are all present.

For two and a half hours this group discusses the pros and cons of now raiding the farm. It is a bizarre meeting. The surveillance men near the farm have already reported the progress of the two diggers. But the arguments flow to and fro. The last message from the surveillance men reports that the two have loaded a large steel box into DLY-l and have sped off.

The junior men on the spot-uncertain and thrown off balance by the fact that their seniors are not passing out any order even in such a desperate situation-follow the car but do not stop and search it. (They do not stop and search the car even though the officer of the Inspection Directorate who is present knows that he has full powers under the Income Tax Act to do so.) The car reaches and enters 12 WiIIingdon Crescent, the residence of Mrs Gandhi, with the steel box and other items intact.

The Home Secretary’s meeting disperses at 1.30 p.m. having decided that the farm should indeed be raided.

The raid commences at 4 p.m. The young man who had done the metal detection work is part of the raid party. The raid party finds big pot-holes in the farm, some full of water from the rains of the preceding days. One of them has been freshly dug. Upon reaching the room where his metal detector had registered the “strongly positive” readings, the young man exclaims that the flooring is not what it was on August 31, 1978.

(Later inquiries are to reveal that the digging up and reflooring were done immediately after IE surveillance was lifted on December 23. The digging on the morning of January 19 took out only the last items that were left in the compound.)

January 20; The morning papers flash photographs and reports of the infructuous raid. The PM-who is still looking after the Home portfolio is upset. He sends a stiff note to the Home Secretary. In this he records the different stages through which, according to his information, the investigation has progressed. The last paragraph of the note is scorching: he wants, says the PM, a detailed written explanation from the Home Secretary of the reasons on account of which the raid has been postponed again and again; he wants the explanation “immediately”. He with his own hand and pen underlines that last word “immediately”.

The PM’s note is never answered.

At a Cabinet meeting the discussion drifts to the enormous delays in filing cases against Mrs Gandhi and to the infructuous raid at her farm. Madhu Dandavate, the Railway Minister, says that, with officers like Raj Deo Singh in charge of the operation, you can expect nothing else. He says that as Railway Minister he has had ample opportunity to review Raj Deo Singh’s record in the Railway Protection Force and that he knows how far Raj Deo Singh went to curry Sanjay Gandhi’s favour.

At the next Cabinet meeting at someone’s initiative T.C.A. Srinivasavardhan, the Home Secretary, testifies that there are no grounds for the Railway Minister’s apprehensions.

On April 21 newspapers carry a report that Raj Deo Singh, the Special Director, who has given such an outstanding account of himself in these proceedings, is being appointed Director, CBI.

Alarmed, three Cabinet Ministers-Madhu Dandavate, George Fernandes and Mohan Dharia-meet the PM and express their strong opposition to the proposed appointment.

On June 7 a notification announces that Raj Deo Singh, Special Director, CBI, wiII succeed John Lobo as Director, CBI when the latter retires on June 30, 1979.

Sloth, lunacy or conspiracy?

Infer what you will. No one cares a damn in any case.

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