New Delhi : Even as the Enforcement Directorate and the CBI summoned former IAF chief SP Tyagi and his deputy for questioning in the controversial Agusta Westland helicopter scam, the war of words between the BJP and the Congress continued to drag on.
Tyagi was summoned after two days of BJP offensive against the Congress on the graft allegations, especially against Sonia Gandhi, the president of the opposition party. He has been accused of meeting the middlemen who cleared the way for Agusta Westland to bag the deal for supplying 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force. While Gujral has been asked to appear for questioning on Saturday, Tyagi will be examined on Monday. Both have been questioned at length in 2013 but the fresh round of questioning was necessitated after the April 7 order of an Italian court.
The charges over the VVIP chopper deal erupted three days ago when documents in an Italian court hearing the Agusta Westland case cited middlemen who had mentioned top Congress leaders, including Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh. These references are being seen in the backdrop of allegations that Agusta Westland, a subsidiary of Italian defence major Finmeccanica, paid around Rs 375 crores as bribe, a revelation that led to the chopper agreement being scrapped by the then UPA government in 2014.
Chopper deal: Political war of words; tit for tat privilege motions
In the Rajya Sabha on Friday BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy sought a discussion over reports that money was allegedly paid to middlemen for managing the Indian media to produce favourable news on the Agusta Westland deal. Speaking in the zero hour, he said: “Now paid news has acquired the character of a cancer in our democracy. Recently this happened in the Agusta Westland deal also. One of the news channels has even published a contract, which was signed between the middlemen and the company for managing the Indian media to produce favourable reports on the deal.”
He also challenged the removal of his comments against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi from Parliament records and moved a privilege motion against Ghulam Nabi Azad accusing the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha of “falsely stating” in Parliament that the previous Congress-led UPA government had blacklisted helicopter maker Agusta Westland and its Italian parent company Finmeccanica.
On Thursday, BJP president Amit Shah had slammed Congress president Sonia Gandhi for her role in the scam and demanded to know who received the “kickbacks” in the case. “Where are those who received the kickbacks? Who were in power at that time? They are responsible and they should bring out the truth,” Shah had said.
Shah continued with his allegations on Friday as well and said that the Congress instead of adopting an attitude of “thief scolding the cop” should feel “ashamed” and “come clean”. He said that the Congress president should name the bribe takers in the Rs.3600 cr deal, and should answer the questions of people of the nation regarding the deal.
Congress counter-attack: Leading the Congress blitz, senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said that it is unheard of bribe takers cancelling any deal in which they are involved. “I have been in active politics for 37 years. I know that if someone has taken a bribe then he does not walk with his head straight. His head is always bowed. If anyone in the UPA had taken a bribe, then we would not have cancelled the deal, or ordered a probe by the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate. Nor confiscated the 3 VVIP helicopters and got back the money that was paid to the company,” he told reporters.
Azad said that the BJP should give up its old habit of simply levelling allegations without any evidence. ”Now they are in power. They have the investigating agencies at their disposal. I challenge them to come up with the names of the bribe takers before the monsoon session or give up this drive to defame the Congress,” he said.
Meanwhile, two Congress MPs, Shantaram Naik and Husain Dalwai, gave a breach of privilege notice in Rajya Sabha against the Defence Ministry for issuing a statement on Agusta Westland chopper deal when Parliament is in session.
According to the Congress members, publishing of a clarification through a government website, therefore, constitutes a breach of privilege of the House and of the members, the sources said. The Defence Ministy had in a statement on Thursday refuted Congress’ claims that Agusta Westland was blacklisted by the UPA government and said it was the NDA, on July 3, 2014, that had actually put on hold all procurement and acquisition cases in the pipeline of six companies involved in the VVIP chopper scam. The Congress also charged that the government has allowed the firm to bid for the Naval Utility Helicopters contract on the condition that it ties up with the local vendor; the contract is for the supply of 100 Light Utility Helicopters.