The Hindu newspaper cited confidential US embassy cables stating that Swedish group Saab-Scania wanted help to sell its Viggen fighter jet, and drafted in Gandhi, whose grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru was independent India’s first prime minister and whose family still dominates India’s ruling party.
At the time, Gandhi (not related to Mahatma Gandhi) had not yet entered politics but was working as a commercial pilot. The WikiLeaks documents show he reportedly served as the “main negotiator” for Saab-Scania and was paid because of his access to his mother Indira Gandhi, who was prime minister at the time.
The documents cite information given by Swedish embassy officials but also state that US officials were unable to confirm or deny the information.
“We would have thought a transport pilot is not the best expert to rely upon in evaluating a fighter plane, but then we are speaking of a transport pilot who has another and perhaps more relevant qualification,” a US diplomat noted wryly in one of the cables.
Saab-Scania “understood the importance of family influences in the final decision in the fighter sweepstakes,” one US diplomat wrote in one of the 41 cables sent between 1974 and 1976.
A 1975 cable cited a Swedish diplomat who reportedly said that Indira Gandhi favoured the French or the Swedes over the British.
“Mrs. Gandhi (according to the Swedish info) has made the personal decision not to purchase the British Jaguar because of her prejudices against the British. The decision would be between the Mirage [Dassault Mirage F1] and the Viggen,” the cable read.
Saab-Scania ultimately lost its bid, with British-made Jaguars selected for the tender.
After later on reluctantly becoming a politician, Rajiv was tarnished by Swedish gun manufacturer Bofors being accused of bribing middlemen including an Italian businessman close to the Gandhi family.
Rajiv was assassinated in 1991. His Italian-born widow Sonia is now head of the ruling Congress party and their son Rahul is positioned as a prime ministerial candidate before elections scheduled for next year.