Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress has moved a motion to discuss the controversial AgustaWestland helicopter deal in the Rajya Sabha on Monday, signalling a widening rift in the opposition camp.
Till now, the AgustaWestland had been essentially a tussle between Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Trinamool’s bid to fish in the troubled waters may jeopardise the equations in the opposition camp, spoiling the larger non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA) unity, to start with.
The party could have chosen to raise the issue to give it back to the Congress which has joined hands with the Left in the ongoing assembly elections in West Bengal. Ground reports from the state suggest that the ‘alliance’ has posed a tough challenge to Banerjee in many areas.
“Trinamool gives notice in RS for suspension of all business today & immediately take up discussion on #AgustaWestland,” an official tweet of Trinamool Congress said on Monday morning.
The controversy over the deal resurfaced earlier in April after the names of five Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi, and UPA II functionaries figured in a judgement by an Italian court.
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 Indian Air Force. The previous UPA government scrapped the deal over charges of kickbacks to Indian agents in 2014.
The move to raise the issue in the Upper House could hurt the opposition unity. The government is in a minority in the Rajya Sabha but it might aim to gain some political space in case of a widening difference between the opposition parties.
Last week, Congress demanded an apology from BJP chief Amit Shah for his “politics of deceit” and attempts to create a “smokescreen to befool” the people in the AgustaWestland deal.
For its part, the BJP fired a fresh salvo at the Congress chief, alleging that 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 Narasimha 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 NDA government of allowing Finmeccanica, the Italian parent company of AgustaWestland, to participate in 2015 Aero India show.
Congress asked why companies related to AgustaWestland were allowed to take part in Prime Minister Modi’s Make in India projects.