The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) asked the Congress on Tuesday to come clean on “bribe-takers” in a controversial chopper deal but the opposition party hit back by accusing the NDA government of indulging in “vicious propaganda”.
The political slugfest erupted after a Milan court convicted two Italians for paying kickbacks to Indian officials in the 2010 AgustaWestland chopper deal that was scrapped by the previous UPA government in 2014.
Though the Italian court did not indict any Indian, the BJP plans to corner the Congress in Parliament on Wednesday over references in the judgment to middlemen talking about ‘Signora Gandhi’ being the “driving force” behind the deal and referring to senior Congress leaders Manmohan Singh, Ahmed Patel and Oscar Fernandez.
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, had allegedly paid more than Rs 375 crores as bribe to secure the Rs 3,727-crore contract to supply 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
Antony was the defence minister when the deal was sealed in February 2010.
“Now that bribe-givers have been convicted, what should happen to the bribe-takers? Will Mr (former defence minister AK) Antony publicly give a statement on this? Will he accept that his partymen are involved in the scam?” Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said at a press conference.
The Italian court document contains a note sent by a British “consultant” to a company official in 2008, which read: “Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind VIP...she will not fly any more in the Mi-8.” The Mi-8 helicopters used by the Indian Air Force for VIPs are being phased out.
In the note, the middleman wanted the company officials in India to advise the British high commissioner to target Gandhi’s close advisors.
BJP president Amit Shah and Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu met after the court verdict to mull over the party’s next move.
Party sources said they will raise the issue in both houses on Wednesday and seek a debate on the matter. The ruling alliance is on the back foot over a plitical crisis in Uttarakhand with the Congress accusing the BJP of trying to topple opposition governments.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad alleged that the previous UPA government raised obstacles in a CBI probe into the scam.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, however, dismissed the corruption charges and said it was the UPA government that cancelled the contract and blacklisted the company.
“We also lodged a case in Italy and confiscated helicopters. The question is that a company was blacklisted for violation of integrity pact. Why did the BJP government remove it from the blacklist?”
Sharma said the BJP government allowed the company to bid for projects in the navy. “PM Narendra Modi invited AgustaWestland to participate in Make in India when he met his Italian counterpart in New York.”