The Congress demanded on Saturday an apology from BJP chief Amit Shah for his “politics of deceit” and attempts to create a “smokescreen to befool” the people on the controversial AgustaWestland helicopter deal.
For its part, the BJP fired a fresh salvo at the Congress chief, alleging that Sonia Gandhi had “overridden” then defence minister AK Antony’s objection to the tainted manufacturer conducting field trials abroad for the helicopter.
“Who in the UPA government or who in the Congress other than Sonia Gandhi and her adviser Ahmad Patel has the authority to override Antony? The only one who could tell him to keep quiet, who could silence him was Sonia Gandhi,” party spokesperson GVL Narsimha Rao said.
The Congress remained unfazed and asked if the Narendra Modi government’s defence procurement procedure doesn’t provide “that trial can be carried out abroad”.
In Thiruvananthapuram, Antony dared the BJP-led government to take strong action against “bribe givers and takers” if there is any evidence.
As the BJP tried to drag Gandhi into the controversy, the main opposition party accused the BJP-led NDA government of allowing Finmeccanica, the Italian parent company of AgustaWestland, to participate in 2015 Aero India show. The Congress asked why companies related to AgustaWestland were allowed to take part in Prime Minister Modi’s Make in India projects.
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, allegedly paid Rs 375 crore as bribe to secure a Rs 3,727-crore contract to supply 12 VVIP choppers to the air force. The previous UPA government scrapped the deal over charges of kickbacks to Indian agents.
The controversy resurfaced this April after an Italian court found two company executives guilty of corruption. Since then, the BJP and Congress have been trading charges.
“Can smear campaign and hatchet jobs of BJP’s dirty tricks department defend the Operation Cover-up of its government in helping AgustaWestland?” asked Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. “The BJP government and its leaders need to introspect whether mudslinging and muckraking can ever replace the truth?”
The Congress contested the government’s clarification, denying allegations linking former air force chief SP Tyagi with national security adviser Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Modi’s principal secretary Nripendra Mishra. It asked the Prime Minister to reveal the connection, if any, that his government has with Tyagi, who is an accused in the chopper deal.
Surjewala posed a number of questions to BJP chief Shah, who reportedly dubbed AgustaWestland and Finmecanica as “bogus” companies. “Will Amit Shah and BJP answer why the same fraud company was permitted to be part of the PM’s Make in India programme and participate in Aero India show?” he asked.
In Dehradun, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said investigations will make it clear how kickbacks were paid and to whom. “But the manner in which the deal was inked and efforts were made to favour a particular company will have to be explained by those in power at the time,” he said.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley refuted the Congress argument that AgustaWestland was blacklisted during the UPA rule and that the NDA lifted it. “This is a figment of somebody’s imagination,” he said in Kerala.