AgustaWestland deal: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress were today headed for an escalating confrontation over allegations of bribery in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP helicopter deal during the UPA regime, with Sonia Gandhi clearly being the target of the ruling party’s attack.
Reports from Italy based on a court judgement citing notes from middlemen that around Rs 120 crore were paid to some political leaders in the deal provided fodder to the BJP which has decided to attack the Congress leadership both inside and outside Parliament.
A note from a middleman reportedly describing Gandhi as the “driving force” behind the deal was seized upon by BJP, but the Congress hit back saying that integrity of Gandhi and the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was unquestioned.
The issue also figured in the BJP Parliamentary Party where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present. Congress would also be targeted on the controversial Aircel Maxis deal and the affidavits in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case.
Dismissing allegations, A K Antony, the defence minister in the UPA government, asked the Modi government to fast track the probe into the chopper scam and find out the truth as the UPA government had cancelled the contract and ordered a CBI investigation into it.
“When the primary allegation came out in the media, we immediately ordered a CBI inquiry. We cancelled the contract and fought the case in the Milan court. We won the case and got back all the money we paid in advance by bank guarantee,” he told reporters.
“The Indian government has gained more (information) now. My request to the Indian government is that the probe has been going on for a long and hence please speed up the inquiry and find the truth,” he said.
The Congress party also hit back at the BJP leaders and said they reject all allegations against Gandhi and Singh “with the contempt they deserve”.
“No one should be making loose comments against the Congress President and the former PM, whose integrity and intellect was never in question,” party deputy leader in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma told the media.
Sharma also claimed that a businessman “close to” Modi has entered into an MoU with AgustaWestland. But he refused to name him.
The BJP fielded Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to attack the Congress on the chopper deal. He asked the defence minister in the Manmohan Singh government A K Antony to name the party leaders allegedly involved in the scandal.
“Bribe-givers have been convicted. Why are bribe-takers silent? Antony should answer if leaders of Congress are involved in it or not. Are they from your party or not? Please come clean,” he told a press conference.
BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi should come out with a clarification over the alleged mention of her name in the Italian court’s order.
“Her government was the champion of corruption. She must issue a clarification over the mention of her name by the court,” he told the media.
Subramanian Swamy, who took oath as the newly-nominated member of Rajya Sabha today and the bete noire of Congress’ first family, will rake up the chopper deal issue in the Rajya Sabha for which notice has been given. Meenakshi Lekhi is expected to do the job in the Lok Sabha tomorrow.
A top BJP leader said it is significant that for the first time the bribe giver has been convicted but still people do not know who the bribe-taker is.
The Aircel Maxis issue is likely to be raked up by Anurag Thakur in the Lok Sabha while in the upper house it may be raised by Bhupender Yadav.
Similarly, the Ishrat Jahan case pot will be stirred by Kirit Somayya in the Lok Sabha.