The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Q silence & how it was broken

New Delhi, Feb. 24: Come Monday, the government is likely to make a statement in Parliament on Ottavio Quattrocchi’s arrest.

With the Opposition raring to attack the Congress-led Centre on why it sat on such sensitive information, sources said the statement is expected to underline that the government is doing “everything” to seek the Italian businessman’s extradition though there’s no such treaty with Argentina.

The statement, they added, could also make the point that the external affairs ministry was helping the CBI as well as working on its own to get the Bofors accused to India.

The statement, which could be made by minister of state for personnel Suresh Pachauri, is also likely to harp on how the law will be “unsparing” towards any individual. This, the sources hoped, might take the sting off the Opposition’s attack on the Q-Sonia Gandhi “connection”.

The statement is also expected to detail how the CBI intends to follow up in Argentina with an indication of a time frame.

However, nobody could say clearly how the government would explain why it sat on the information and whether the “secrecy” was because of the political implications for the Centre, the Congress and the Gandhis.

Sources said Interpol had told the CBI of Quattrocchi’s arrest either on the day it happened or the day after. The CBI then told the personnel ministry, which, in turn, contacted the home and the law ministries. The Prime Minister was informed soon after.

This procedure was complete by February 12, after which the Prime Minister held a meeting with foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, home minister Shivraj Patil and law minister H.R. Bhardwaj. Once some kind of a response was formulated, it was communicated to the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, T.K.A. Nair, who then got in touch with the CBI director.

Nobody could tell when Sonia was informed. What they did say was that the issue “definitely” figured at the high-level meetings held over the past one week or so to discuss the situation in Uttar Pradesh. Some of those directly involved with Quattrocchi’s arrest were also part of the heartland confabulations.

A political call on making the episode public was taken yesterday when Mukherjee, Bhardwaj and Pachauri met in Parliament after it was adjourned for the day.

Before that, some television channels reportedly got a whiff and tried to verify the news with the CBI. But CBI officials were told not to go on air but release a statement.

The sources said what clinched the issue was the fear that the news was bound to percolate to the press or the Opposition. So rather than be slammed for operating in a “cloak-and-dagger” fashion, it was better to go public.

The Congress’s apprehension was that if the authorities remained “cagey”, the blame would have been laid at Sonia’s door and not the government’s.

The statement is expected to be finalised tomorrow night after Mukherjee returns from Bengal.

In a parallel effort, the Congress has begun gathering material on Quattrocchi. Sonia will address a rally in Haryana tomorrow and, though the sources would not confirm whether she would mention the latest development, a functionary said: “When hit, she fights back like a tigress.”

The sources said if things get “too hot” for her in Parliament, she could retaliate on the floor of the House.

The Congress’s broad political line would be that in the last 16 years or so, the BJP used Bofors to malign the Gandhis, but the campaign did not influence poll results.

“No charge has been proved and the case against Rajiv Gandhi was thrown out by the court. And if the BJP is so active, how come the NDA government could not nab Quattrocchi'” a source asked.

Sections within the Congress feel that the government should this time pursue the case for Quattrocchi’s extradition so that the Opposition is “silenced” once and for all.

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