New Delhi: Already in a war of words over the VVIP helicopter deal bribery case, both the BJP and the Congress on Friday moved privilege notices against each other in the Rajya Sabha. Taking his party’s attack on Congress president Sonia Gandhi a notch further, BJP president Amit Shah asked Mrs Gandhi to explain a “number of relaxations” given to AgustaWestland that he claimed “compromised” the nation’s interests. He told the Opposition party that instead of adopting an attitude of “thief scolding the cop”, it should feel “ashamed” and “come clean”. Mr Shah had on Thursday said the Congress president should name the bribe-takers in the Rs 3,600-crore deal.
Earlier, newly-nominated MP Subramanian Swamy tabled a breach of privilege notice in the Rajya Sabha against Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad for his statement that the then UPA government had blacklisted Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland. Congress members created an uproar when Dr Swamy sought to know from deputy chairman P.J. Kurien about his motion. He was told the final call will be taken by Chairman Hamid Ansari.
The Congress countered it later by giving a similar notice against defence minister Manohar Parrikar for making a statement on the deal outside the House while Parliament was in session. Dr Swamy also sought a discussion over reports that money was allegedly paid to middlemen for “managing” the Indian media to produce favourable news stories on the AgustaWestland deal.
The CBI and Enforcement Directorate meanwhile, have both separately summoned former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi (Retd) over their investigation into the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal. The former Air Chief has been asked by the CBI to appear before sleuths on Monday. The CBI also summoned retired Air Marshal J.S. Gujaral, who had allegedly attended a crucial meeting pertaining to the contract in March 2005, on Saturday.
Hitting back at Mr Shah, the Congress dared the BJP-led government to come out with the truth on the deal in the next two months instead of issuing threats and launching a “malicious” campaign. “If the government has the guts, it should come out with truth in the matter in the next two months when the Monsoon Session of Parliament will commence,” Mr Azad said outside Parliament.
Mr Shah, who was in Ahmedabad, told the media that “there was a provision in the tender that it can be only be filed by original equipment manufacturers ... but you allowed AgustaWestland International Ltd to fill the tender in spite of the fact that the company in its 2012 report had made it public that it was not the original equipment manufacturer”.
He also sought to know from Mrs Gandhi on whose instructions this permission was given to it (company), and why they were declared technically qualified and on whose instructions the tender conditions were breached.
“As per tender specifications, there was a condition of taking field evaluation trials in India, but it was changed overnight and the company was allowed to give field trials in their own company premises,” Mr Shah said, raising another question.
He added: “Has this not compromised the seriousness of the trials and has this not compromised India’s interests? If the then defence minister had given a go-ahead for it (change of tender conditions), the Congress president should answer on whose instructions he gave the permission.”
Raising another question, Mr Shah wanted to know why there was a delay in putting the deal on hold when the Italian media reported about bribes being paid in the case. He further said the Congress was claiming all the money given to the company as a bank guarantee had come back but this was far from the truth as only a part of that money had come back.
Countering the BJP’s attack, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad posed a question on whether his party and the UPA leadership would have taken several steps to unravel the truth if they had something to hide or had resorted to corruption. In a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government, he alleged the entire government had been tasked to target the Congress and its leadership day in and day out on the issue. “It is all disinformation, a malicious campaign,” he said.
“They have the entire government with them, the CBI, RAW... Why they are not finding out as to who is guilty, who has taken money?” Mr Azad asked. He also said his party was ready for a discussion in Parliament on the issue as it had “nothing to hide”.
Dismissing the BJP’s charge that the Congress had compromised national security in the deal, Mr Azad said national security had got compromised when in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government, the then external affairs minister had accompanied dreaded terrorists to Kandahar. “National security gets compromised when we see defence files are selectively leaked to TV channels,” he said in an apparent jibe at the Modi government. The Congress also claimed the defence ministry has come out with “half truths” in its clarification on the deal Thursday.
Earlier, the Upper House gave an extension to the Select Committee on Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill to present its report by the last day of the first week of the next session. BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav had moved a motion for the extension, that was accepted by the House....