New Delhi: Executing its plan, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Wednesday sought to drag Sonia Gandhi into the controversial Rs 3,600 VVIP AugustaWestland chopper deal with its newly-nominated MP Subramanian Swamy taking her name that caused a huge ruckus in the Rajya Sabha as Congress members stormed the well of the House and paralysed it for an hour.
Hitting back, Gandhi rejected the allegations against her and party leaders as "false and baseless" and calling them as an attempt at "character assassination". She asserted she was "not afraid" of being "cornered" on the issue.
Talking to media in Parliament House, Gandhi asked the government what has it been doing in power for the last two years and demanded that the ongoing inquiry be completed impartially so that the truth comes out.
The controversial deal and the alleged bribes to the tune of Rs.360 crore paid in clinching it rocked the Rajya Sabha against the backdrop of an Italian court citing handwritten references to Gandhi, her political secretary Ahmed Patel and former Air Chief S P Tyagi by a middleman in a judgement that convicted the helicopter company's chief executive.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar joined the row asking the Congress to show the order of the UPA government blackmailing AugustaWestland, a stance the party has taken ever since the controversy broke out.
Today's drama began with Swamy, bete noire of the Gandhi family who took oath as a nominated member only yesterday, began his new innings raking up the chopper deal and sought to drag Gandhi's name during the Zero Hour soon after the House met for the day.
All hell broke loose triggering angry exchanges between the opposition and treasury benches. At one point, there appeared to be a possibility of an ugly showdown as some Congress members menacingly rushed towards the treasury benches, prompting a couple of marshals to step in to act as a wall. Members of the treasury benches too got up from their seats to counter the opposition.
Congress members, who called Swamy names, created bedlam, forcing repeated adjournments of the House in the pre-lunch session. However, Chairman Hamid Ansari prevailed on the agitating members to take up the Question Hour later.
Swamy referred to the allegations reportedly made by Christian Michel, the controversial middleman in the chopper deal, through a letter to the High Court of Italy.
Deputy Chairman P J Kurien immediately adjourned the House for 10 minutes lest the situation went out of hand. When the House re-assembled, Kurien expunged some of the references and allegations to Gandhi saying he should not name a member who cannot come and defend himself or herself. Gandhi is a member of the Lok Sabha.
"I am not admonishing you as this is your first speech in the House. But the name is expunged," Kurien told Swamy. This did not satisfy the Congress members who were in the Well again shouting slogans against Swamy.
As Congress members continued to raise slogans from the Well, the Deputy Chairman again adjourned the House till noon. When the House re-assembled, the Congress members were once again on their feet, chanting "CIA agent is sitting here" while pointing towards Swamy.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said Swamy will not be allowed to speak in the House unless he withdraws his comment. Deputy Leader of Congress in the House Anand Sharma also asked Swamy angrily to withdraw his comments.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said it was "not appropriate" for anybody to threaten a member of the House to which Congress member Hussain Dalwai retorted saying "nobody has threatened. He (Swamy) has only been called a CIA agent".
Amid the slogan-shouting by Congress members, Ansari called for peace, insisting that questions should be taken up in the Question Hour after which, the Congress members withdrew to their seats.
In the Lok Sabha, surprisingly the Congress members raised the issue seeking a discussion on the chopper deal saying allegations have been levelled against their leadership.
As BJP mounted the offensive, Gandhi herself took the lead in returning the fire. "Where are the proofs. They are lying. They are part of a strategy of character assassination which we have known these people indulge in," Gandhi said.
"The government is there for the last 2 years. What are they doing? Inquiry is there, why don't they complete it? Complete it as soon as possible, impartially, so that the truth will come out" she said.
On his part, Ahmed Patel also rubbished the allegations against him and the party as "absolutely baseless" and dared the government to "hang" him if he was guilty. "This government, when they are saying all these things outside and inside the Parliament, why can't they investigate," Patel said.
"If there is something against me, they should find out and they should hang me," he said when asked by reporters for his reactions over the allegations....