Defence minister Manohar Parrikar is expected to tear into the Congress-led UPA regime over the VVIP chopper deal on Wednesday, seeking to further corner the main Opposition party in the kickbacks scandal.
Parrikar will place in Parliament a detailed chronology of the controversial deal and seek to establish how the previous government allegedly eased some key clauses to benefit the UK-based AgustaWestland, with whom India signed a Rs 3,727-crore contract for 12 AW-101 choppers in February 2010. The firm is a subsidiary of Italian defence conglomerate Finmeccanica.
AgustaWestland beat off competition from US rival Sikorsky to win the contract. The deal came back into the spotlight early last month, after an Italian court of appeals reversed the verdict of a lower court that corruption could not be proved. The higher court in Milan found former Finmeccanica chairman Giuseppe Orsi and AgustaWestland ex-CEO Bruno Spagnolini guilty of corruption and sent them to prison.
Parrikar’s much-awaited statement in the Rajya Sabha will come in the wake of the BJP mounting sharp attacks on top Congress leaders, including party president Sonia Gandhi, over the deal. While former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi and his cousins are among those accused of taking bribes, the names of some top Congress leaders and bureaucrats have also been linked to the kickbacks – leading to a no-holds-barred political battle.
On April 27, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy mentioned Sonia Gandhi’s name in the Rajya Sabha while referring to allegations made by one of the middlemen. Her name was later expunged.
Parrikar is likely to state in Parliament that while bribe givers in the case have been convicted, it is now the bribe takers who need to be identified and punished. He may also ask the Congress to explain why the firm was not blacklisted by the UPA regime despite graft charges.
Last week, after the Congress claimed that the company was banned by the erstwhile UPA government, Parrikar challenged it to show the order blacklisting the firm. He is likely to claim that dealings with Finmeccanica were put on hold only on July 3, 2014, after the NDA government came to power.
In its counter-offensive, the Congress is likely to question the Modi government on why it has not finished investigating the case despite being in power for two years. The government claims that the probe has been delayed because some key perpetrators are still outside the country.