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Lies, deceit and threat: Read how Indira and Sanjay Gandhi pulled off the Maruti scam

An oft-overlooked piece of Sanjay Gandhi’s public life is the Maruti scandal in which he and his mother, then PM of India, were the main perpetrators in hoodwinking an unsuspecting and innocent nation.

Sanjay Gandhi, the reckless, vainglorious, and utterly reprehensible in his conceited actions, had wrecked India’s democracy from within when in 1975 he, in large part, influenced his mother Mrs Indira Gandhi to impose the emergency and supplant the rule of law with that of corrupt and lying men. The commentariat is, from time to time, abuzz with sordid sagas of his draconian forced nasbandi (sterilization) programme or his authoritarian ways of mindlessly demolishing Jhuggi-Jhopris in Delhi or how he controlled censorship of the fourth estate through VC Shukla.

An oft-overlooked piece of Sanjay’s public life is the Maruti scandal in which he and his mother, then PM of India, were the main perpetrators in hoodwinking an unsuspecting and innocent nation.

Sanjay Gandhi, Mrs Gandhi’s younger son, was of the rather boisterous sort, who, foregoing a university education decided to do a student apprenticeship with Rolls Royce and a course on vocational mechanical engineering, both of which he failed to complete. The late Vinod Mehta, the former editor of the Outlook, noted in his autobiography: “Back in India, Sanjay deftly manipulated his mother, sowing in her a guilt complex about him coping alone with the after-effects of a broken home.”

Eventually, and ultimately tragically, under the munificence of Mrs Gandhi, Sanjay set out to ostensibly make a low cost ‘people’s car’, the Maruti, and with many a government favours filling his sails, he had progressed to putting together his prototype in a huge facility in Gurugram, which is presently occupied by Maruti-Suzuki.

Read: The making of Maruti: A sordid history of Congress scams

Mrs Gandhi, in a calculated show of approval, publicly stated that she commended the enterprising spirit of her son in putting forward a proposal for a small car that is completely Indian, and that her son was a ‘delicate young man’ and with whatever money and energy he had, he had modelled a car, not a posh one, but fairly comfortable, and suited to Indian conditions and the middle class.
The Maruti scandal was just beginning to unfold and the full extent of the chicaneryand underhand pressures officially exercised, and the cravenness of the officials and policy-makers in high places were subsequently revealed in the 141-page report of the Commission of Inquiry on Maruti Affairs, 1979 sanctioned by the Janta Party government in 1977.

The commission’s report makes sad reading and exposes not only Sanjay but also Mrs Gandhi’s complicity in this fraud. Below are the salient points of the report.

  1. At every stage, issues were fudged, rules bent, rivals frustrated, records fabricated, officials subjected to pressure or victimised if they refused to comply.
  2. The PMO was used to orchestrate efforts to secure an industrial license for Sanjay’s Maruti with an approved capacity of 50,000 units per annum.
  3. The issues of land acquisition, facilities, and clearances in Gurugram were taken care of by the then Chief Minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal, who was a Sanjay loyalist.
  4. The car was to be built completely indigenously, without any utilization of foreign exchange or foreign technical assistance. Sanjay violated both stipulations by engaging a German designer Willy Muller, who brought with him two NSU German engines as ‘personal baggage’, one of which was fitted into the ‘indigenous’ prototype.
  5. In the course of reliability tests at the Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (VRDE) of the defence ministry at Ahmednagar, Sanjay’s prototype suffered a failure in its steering rod and fell into a ditch. At that time, it had covered 19,376 km as against the stipulated test run of 30,000 km. Yet, officially it was said that the prototype was all right, and it was, in fact, the VRDE’s test driver’s carelessness and inexperience that had caused the car to fall in the ditch.
  6. The then minister for heavy industry, TA Pai, complained to Mrs Gandhi about Sanjay’s failure to comply with the requisite test stipulations, but to no avail as he did not receive any response, not even from Mrs Gandhi.
  7. The government was unconcerned about the production facility of Sanjay’s Maruti coming up in a prohibited zone next to an Air Force facility. Some ‘remedialmeasures’ were proposed and the file sent to Mrs Gandhi who first kept the file forfour months and gave a noting that the matter is kept pending for six months or so.
  8. The company’s minutes books were cooked up and action sought on the basis of bogus resolutions and alleged bank clearances that were never obtained.
  9. Automobile dealers were coerced into buying shares to raise capital for Sanjay’s Maruti venture, and were threatened with demolition of their shops on non-compliance.
  10. Maruti Technical Services and Maruti Heavy Vehicles were floated as private enterprises in which Sonia Gandhi, then still a foreign national, was made a director.
  11. Banks were coerced to bend regulations and the then chairman of Central Bank was hounded and his term not renewed because he did not find it possible to approve Sanjay’s proposal for a loan of Rs 1.5 crores to help his Maruti Limited.
  12. Quite a few of the applications that Sanjay Gandhi made and the letters he wrote to the authorities asking for something for Maruti, were undated or did not contain proper signatures. In some of them, a scratch of the pen or a tick mark was his signature.
  13. Sanjay did this because he was convinced that making these applications was a mere formality and it was pre-determined that all he wanted would be granted to him.In its damning conclusion, the report states: “The affairs described have brought about a decline in the integrity of public life and sullied the purity of administration.

Legal and other requirements were brushed aside and accepted norms of behaviour were forgotten…..There was an atmosphere of fear… the threat of detention under MISA or a CBI inquiry or other forms of harassment made it hazardous for officers to insist on rules. Shri Sanjay Gandhi exercised only a derivative power, the source of authority was the Prime Minister herself”.

This incident shows that when Congress speaks on Rafale or makes unsubstantiated allegations of corruption (or otherwise) on PM Narendra Modi or HM Amit Shah, it indulges in doublespeak and a Janus faced behaviour that can only be described as Machiavellian skulduggery of the worst sort.

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