A well-known dictum of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence is that an individual is innocent till proven guilty. Even L.K. Advani knows that the Indian legal system proceeds on this premise. It follows that Ottavio Quattrocchi is an innocent man. No court in India has found him guilty any of the charges that were levelled against him. Without a verdict from a court, the debate about whether the charges are true or false is largely irrelevant. Mr Quattrocchi has been hounded by various Indian law-enforcing agencies ever since his name came to be linked to the scandal involving the Bofors gun. These agencies have not been able to substantiate the charges and the Central Bureau Investigation, quite rightly, if somewhat belatedly, advised that Mr Quattrocchi’s name should be dropped from the Interpol’s wanted list. This, not surprisingly, has led to a hue and cry. The Bharatiya Janata Party, scenting an issue that could provide some political capital, has rushed in. The BJP believes that the CBI was influenced by the present government, which, according to the BJP, is over-eager to shield Mr Quattrocchi. Mr Advani has accused the prime minister and Sonia Gandhi of being “directly responsible” for burying the truth about Bofors. His party said that if it came to power, it would probe how Mr Quattrocchi’s name came to be dropped.
Mr Advani and his party are welcome to charge at any windmill of their choosing but they would be well-advised to watch their backs. They have overlooked a simple principle of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence; they have also forgotten that the BJP was in power for five years, and that Mr Advani was the deputy prime minister and the home minister for those five years. During that period, the CBI was directly under Mr Advani’s jurisdiction, and all the Bofors papers were open to him. Surely, five years was time enough to bring Mr Quattrocchi to book and to unearth the truth about Bofors. Mr Advani and his government failed to do either. Unless one accepts the absurd theory that Mr Advani is part of the conspiracy to bury the truth about Bofors, it will not be unreasonable to conclude that Mr Quattrocchi was not convicted because of lack of proper evidence. Thus, legally, Mr Quattrocchi is innocent. He is therefore also a man who should be free of the ‘wanted’ tag around his neck. Mr Advani should admit his failure and move on to find some other issue to revive his party’s flagging fortunes.