The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday began what is expected to be a fiery debate on alleged graft in the purchase of AgustaWestland VVIP helicopters, with both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress in attack mode against each other.
Congress MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi leads party’s Agusta defence in Rajya Sabha. Training gun on BJP, Singhvi said charges of corruption leveled against Congress are baseless as the government is trying to divert attention from getting to the root of the Agusta scam.
Reading the judgment of the Italian court, Sanghvi said “We have no evidence against Sonia Gandhi. Only a mention of her in the facts, as a person who will fly in these machines. The same holds true for Manmohan Singh. We have faith in the loosely translated report of a judge of another country but dont trust our own courts.”
“Just because you have inbuilt hatred for certain names doesn’t mean they shall be put in place for initials used,” said Sanghvi in Parliament.
“How can you have hypocrisy & double standard? we have to be more matured,” he added.
BJP member Bhupendra Yadav initiated the discussion, accusing the Congress of creating conditions to favour the Italian company for the purchase.
“All defence procurements need to be made transparent,” he said in his initial remarks of a “serious” debate that “involves revelations of curruption in a defence purchase”.
Parrikar’s much-awaited statement in the Rajya Sabha came in the wake of the ruling BJP mounting sharp attacks on top Congress leaders, including party president Sonia Gandhi, over the deal.
The BJP has alleged that the former UPA government allegedly eased some key clauses to benefit the UK-based AgustaWestland, with whom India had signed a Rs 3,727-crore contract for 12 AW-101 choppers in February 2010.
The firm, a subsidiary of Italian defence conglomerate Finmeccanica, beat off competition from US rival Sikorsky to win the deal.
Much to the delight of the central government, which was facing attacks from the Opposition on the imposition of President’s rule in Uttarakhand as well as its Pakistan policy, an Italian court of appeals in Milan brought the deal back into the spotlight early last month by reversing a lower court’s verdict that there was no evidence of corruption. The court then found former Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-CEO Bruno Spagnolini guilty of corruption, and sent them to prison.
While former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi and his cousins are suspected to have manipulated the system to swing the chopper deal, the names of some top Congress leaders and bureaucrats have also been linked to the alleged kickbacks. On April 27, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy mentioned Gandhi’s name in the Rajya Sabha while referring to allegations made by one of the middlemen.
Last week, when the Congress sought to defend itself by saying that the company was banned by the erstwhile UPA government, Parrikar challenged it to produce the order blacklisting the firm.