During the Emergency (1975-77), the Gandhi brothers, Rajiv and Sanjay, may have competed as representatives in at least one of the most lucrative aircraft contracts of the day, suggest the US embassy cables released by Wikileaks.
The US embassy had said in a cable on July 30, 1976 that the Maruti company controlled by Sanjay was negotiating for BAC (British Aircraft Corporation) in India, and in a later cable added that it believed the company was already working with it. BAC was in the race for two aircraft contracts in India—for supplying aircraft to Indian Airlines and as a joint developer of Jaguar fighter for the Indian Air Force’s Deep Penetration Strike Aircraft (DPSA) project.
The US embassy cables — sent between 1973 and 1976 — suggest that Rajiv was working for Saab-Scania, whose Viggen aircraft was in the fray with Jaguar for the DPSA venture.
So, if the secret cables from the US embassy in India are to be believed, then the brothers were working for rival firms that were desperate to sell fighters to the IAF.
It is not clear if the brothers’ rivalry over IAF’s fighter deal had spilled over to family ties. However, the IAF’s fighter contract went beyond the Emergency, and the final decision could not be taken until 1978, when the Janata government settled for Jaguar fighters.
It is not recorded if Maruti, or Sanjay Gandhi, financially benefitted from the deal.
Sanjay also probably worked for BAC in Indian Airlines contract. It had bid its aircraft 111-474 against Boeing’s 737-200 and Fokker’s F-28 Mark 4000. Finally, Boeing bagged the contract.
According to the US cables, Maruti was also keen to represent other aircraft manufacturers in India.
On August 27, 1976, the US embassy cabled Washington DC saying that K L Jalan, managing director, Maruti Heavy Vehicles, requested mission’s assistance in “arranging a meeting with the president or high level official of Cessna aircraft to discuss the sale of Cessna aircraft in India”. Jalan assured the embassy that his firm has an “immediate sale for two aircraft with a very promising outlook for 20 more units by fiscal year-end, March 1977”.
Jalan requested that the Cessna’s official make a special trip to India within the next 10 days to discuss financial details, the cable said.
Four days later, Jalan approached the US embassy again. This time he told an embassy official that Maruti wanted to contact Piper Aircraft, another aviation firm, too. “Please inform Mr Robert C Watson, Piper Aircraft Corp, Lock Haven, PA of the approach by Maruti,” the cable to the headquarters said.