Chitra: The Story Behind Bofors

Chitra Subramaniam tells Madhu Trehan about the pulls & pressures of working on the Bofors exposé. The limitations of journalists & the editorial tussles at The Hindu. And why India still doesn’t know the truth about Bofors. N Ram responds.


The context of the interviews with Chitra Subramaniam and N Ram (above) is the Bofors story in particular and journalism in general. N Ram was the Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu from 2004 to 2012. For those who were not born or were too young at the time – Chitra Subramaniam was the reporter credited with breaking the Bofors kickbacks story in 1989. For those not born or were too young and disinterested until now – Bofors was a story about kickbacks paid in the purchase of a Swedish gun involving an Italian gentleman called Ottavio Quattrochi whom the BJP alleges was a family friend of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. For those not born, too young, disinterested and living in a cave – Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Mini… Oh, never mind.

We spoke to N Ram after Madhu Trehan’s interview with Chitra Subramaniam. What the two have said is in the videos above. Given below are Chitra’s responses post Mr N Ram’s interview.

N Ram: “Chitra Subamanium was a stringer at that time. Much of this period she was a stringer for The Hindu, based in Geneva. She struck gold by making excellent contacts for which we have nothing but praise. Her role was to send notes. Even in her book where large portions have been lifted from the columns of The Hindu even from material that she did not write. I wrote most of it. But there were also others like VK Ramachandran who visited the headquarters of Bofors and did a number of stories. So for whatever reasons, without acknowledgment that sort of stuff has been lifted and used in her book. But in that book she acknowledges correctly that the stories were written by me…often joint byline.”

Chitra: In his role as an editor, Mr Ram wrote the final stories. Everybody knows who the main driver behind this investigation was.  If there had been genuine teamwork and an atmosphere of trust and transparency, the story would have stayed with the team and not moved with me an individual, when I went to The Indian Express and The Statesman.  Mr V.K. Ramachandran – as far as I know – was then a doctoral student in Finland and traveled to Sweden to pursue the story. Interestingly, I never got to meet with him throughout our working as a team on this story.

For teams to function well – and I have learned this from working with individuals and corporations – there has to be a leader who clearly defines the roles of others and ensures that every member of the team is respected.

N Ram: “We also appreciate the work of Chitra Subramanium at that time, although not what she has done later to sort of belittle the investigation, especially considering in a book, the narrative in the book she has lifted without acknowledgement. Much of the material was published in The Hindu. Most of the work is written by me, but as I said even some reportage done by my friend Prof. VK Ramachandran.”

Chitra: I hadn’t realised that stringers and reporters are treated differently from editors and owners in a team pursuit of factual information in a major story and that editors can help themselves to the work of stringers and reporters without any acknowledgment. Stringers and reporters work in good faith and hope to learn from their elders. How does one lift work from one’s own work, especially when the work involves continuous investigation and bits and pieces are filed every day to help the bigger picture emerge?

Some of the Indian investigators belittled themselves and, by extension, India. We all know the consequences of some of the stories they planted.  I reported on what I saw. I believe that is the job of any journalist, irrespective of who is in power. Governments talk of friendly and unfriendly newspapers and owners. I didn’t understand it then. I do now, but will not accept it as a given – doing so would be cynical.

In addition, The Hindu was out of the picture as far as the investigation in Switzerland was concerned as it had ceased publication of work on it in 1990. So, whatever anyone including Mr Ram has to say about how the investigations went on here is second-hand or information they may not have been able to verify independently.

N Ram: “There’s no correction…nothing…no correction of any kind. The byline from the beginning, from the first day, the byline said first name Chitra Subramanium and N Ram. Of course not…Of course not…From the start because the whole thing went as it is…as printed in The Hindu. And in any case it wasn’t written by her. That she herself has said, that it was mentioned from this… I don’t know what she was talking about. Go to the website it’s exactly the same. The work was not just for one story. The recognition…the story was selected…see, what they selected was the body of work alsosay in some cases just one story…if they did one story, but here they were saying body of work,they were picked. I had nothing to do with it. We did not enter anything…they knew…they had done their research and they had it on their records, they picked it and this is for an…alumnus. Chitra Subramanium, to the best of my knowledge, is not an alumnae of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. And…she is absolutely nothing…and I made it clear in the interview to The Hindu which also meant that it was a team work. It was not just Chitra Subramanium. She…she sent…she wrote these documents, the first ones, later on I was also there…and she struck gold but there were numerous others who contributed very important material to the Bofors investigation, without which we couldn’t breakthrough…and this was recognised but not so…that is ridiculous. I think, she got into a state, I think on this…and Columbia School made it clear what it was from day one, so I think…I would expect…better from mature people.”

Chitra: I had a long conversation with Elizabeth Weinreb Fishman, Associate Dean for Communications, Columbia. We spoke off-the-record, discussed journalism, ethics, the role of teams, editors, reporters etc. She said they had worked on the project (all the stories) for nearly one year. She sent me her contact details.  I don’t know if the correction had anything to do with our conversation. I sent her the interview in The Hoot.

Links to Bofors (Archives)


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  • Madhu I have answer to your question about BJP not investigating against Bofors. Actually if you go back to history you will find BJP was in big trouble due bombardment of scams one after another (Coffins scam, Tahelka Sting) so the only way to make opposition to keep quite is to make a deal with them. Its like you keep quit in my case and I will be quit in your case (you scratch my back and I will scratch your back). In all this thing BJP made fool of themselves. Congress ( Sonia Gandhi) was made hero out of all this things. Media call Congress a nice opposition who let the parliament running even after all the scam and media still do BJP bashing for stalling the parliament on 2G scam and CWG scam.

  • Aware Indian

    This is so silly, going on and on for more than hour about something that is so BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS.

    1. Obviously, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi (through their “close family associate” Ottavio Quattrochi as a conduit) received the kickbacks from Bofors for the gun deal. Rajiv Gandhi’s name was NOT a “plant”. He *was* the ultimate beneficiary of this corruption! The bit about “Gandhi’s trusted lawyer” or “Nehru can be exposed, but not Q, because of his closeness to Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi” is AS DAMNING AS IT GETS. I repeat: Rajiv’s name was NOT a “plant”, but Rajiv was OBVIOUSLY the main beneficiary of the corrupt kickbacks.

    2. Obviously, Congress stalled (and still stalls) the Bofors investigation whenever it is in power (directly or indirectly), because OBVIOUSLY they cannot / would not expose and prosecute their own “bread-winner family” (the dynasty that is revered by them, and regarding whose members’ legacies myths have been spun to aid them forever continue winning elections).

    3. Obviously, V. P. Singh did not pursue the matter further after winning the elections because for him, the purpose of the Bofors scandal had already been served. He had already managed to win the elections and become PM. Why unnecessarily continue antagonizing the Congress party? Instead of that, why not use the Bofors scam investigation to negotiate a political settlement and engage in “secret deals” with the Congress and Rajiv instead? Or may be Singh did not get the kind of positive results from the CBI officers on the case that were good enough to prosecute (may be the CBI officers continued to be personally loyal to the Congress/Rajiv instead of to the new govt). May be that “list” of people Singh flaunted was just a bluff to keep the Congress and Rajiv afraid and on their toes. In any case, do not forget that Singh only ever got 2 years as PM — a terribly short time to complete such a high-profile investigation.

    (That theory that Singh was afraid that some “planted story” regarding Amitabh Bachchan’s involvement would come out is just ridiculously lame … oh for f**** sake, you really think an investigation like Bofors would be stalled just because some “planted story” naming Amitabh Bachchan would be revealed?! The theory that someone from the BJP as well could have been involved in the “planted story” that named Amitabh is even more bunkum. The BJP supported Singh from outside and had absolutely no executive position inside the govt to do what you are suggesting … moreover, there are better explanations, see below.)

    4. Obviously, by the time the BJP came to power, may be the investigation was already dead and cold (with a lot of evidence destroyed or fudged), and just could not be competently pursued any longer! Or may be the BJP also negotiated a political settlement with the Congress (and Sonia) like Singh had. (Dr. Subramanian Swamy has already speculated that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi shared a “you don’t trouble me, I won’t trouble you either” kind of an understanding.) Or may be the instruments of Vajpayee’s government (i.e. CBI, ED, I-T, IB, etc) were still controlled by their previous Congress masters (60 years in govt can easily perpetuate a kind of influence over the larger bureaucracy even without being in power — personal relationships could be involved and invoked after all) and not really by the BJP itself. Or may be some NDA ally said that they will support Vajpayee/BJP only so far as running the NDA govt but no further (and, specifically, will withdraw support the moment BJP goes “rough” on Sonia over Bofors).

    Even a kid can work these things out …

    • Aware Indian

      BTW, what I find *most* interesting whenever looking at these Indian mainstream media journalists (I’m talking about people like Madhu, not Chitra) is the way they are always somehow in denial that their “secular” blue-eyed boys from the Congress (especially those from the Nehru Raj Gharana) could ever be up to anything unholy. Throughout her interview with Chitra, the names of Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi are never quite openly/bluntly/properly taken … it’s always a kind of beating around the bush, but never quite managing the guts to say it explicitly that it is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS even to a child that Rajiv was the main beneficiary behind the corrupt kickbacks received for the Bofors gun deal. In the end, Madhu even goes as far as to suggest and imply that Rajiv’s name was a “plant”! It is only after Chitra says it explicitly and bluntly that Rajiv’s name was NOT a plant, but that Rajiv was the main culprit and Quattrochi his frontman, that Madhu reluctantly agrees. So while India “ka bachcha bachcha jaanta hai” that Rajiv and Sonia (via Q) were the corrupt ones in the Bofors scam, the media is too afraid to even take their name!

      Now compare this whole “beating around the bush”, being “afraid to take the Gandhi name in vain”, and ridiculous “benefit of the doubt” that is extended to Rajiv, with the kind of instant justice and TV-channel-cum-kangaroo-court judgements that are meted out to the poor b*****ds from the BJP, such as Narendra Modi. Unlike Rajiv, no “beating around the bush” or being “afraid to take his name in vain” or “benefit of the doubt” is ever extended to Modi. No courtesies or even care for the principles of natural justice, just plain-old “mass murderer”, “modern Hitler” and “merchant of death” right to his face. So what if the Supreme Court doesn’t agree? The media and our pseudo-liberal pseudo-secular pseudo-intellectual pseudo-journalists have long decided for themselves … “Modi is guilty”.

  • captainjohann

    I remember Rajiv Ganhi said at that time that he was not involved in Bofors and I believed him.The crucial link was AE services account and it was Quotarchi who benefitted from this.I think this whole operation was done by western intelligence agencies to rope in Gandhi family as their mole because they might have found Rajiv as a person becoming unpredictable and not pliant to their wishes.Again his killing later shows the western monopoly capitalism could not stomach his return.Now that world bank and IMF are ruling India, the Congress/BJP alliance along with state satraps like mamtha,SP and jayalalitha,Naveen who are all seem to be beholden to western interests the saga of Bofors has come full circle.Whichever party comes in power whether NDA or UPA, they are beholden to western interests.

  • Thanks Madhu mam for doing this interview….

  • Am really impressed and looking forward for some more daring news from you guys. Keep it up!!

  • Gaurav Agrawal

    They have used clippings of this interview in Pradhanmantri series episode 17 “The story of the Bofors scandal”. I don’t think they have given any credits…