Prime Minister Narendra Modi waded into the raging AgustaWestland corruption row on Friday, appearing to attack Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and demanding punishment for those who received bribes from middlemen in the deal.
Modi, at an election rally in Tamil Nadu’s Hosur, criticised the opposition party and said his government couldn’t be blamed for alleged corruption in the Rs 3,727 crore agreement.
“Do you have any relatives in Italy? I don’t have any relative in Italy. Then why I am being asked about the doings of the Congress?” Modi said, an apparent reference to Gandhi’s Italian roots.
“AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam culprits must be punished.”
AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence major Finmeccanica, allegedly paid around Rs 375 crore as bribe to bag a deal for supplying 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force.
“I have never been to Italy; haven’t met Italians. Even then if the Italians held them guilty, what do we do?” Modi said, referring to a recent Milan court judgment where documents showed middlemen naming top Congress leaders including Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
The graft charges forced the then UPA government to scrap the deal before the general elections in 2014.
“Should those stealing in the VVIP chopper deal not be punished? Should there not be legal action against them?... That’s why I am fighting against corruption,” he said.
The allegations have sparked fireworks in the ongoing budget session of Parliament where the government repeatedly accused the Congress of colluding with middlemen to illegally benefit AgustaWestland.
The Opposition party denies all allegations, pointing out that it was the then NDA government led by BJP stalwart Atal Bihari Vajpayee that decided to change helicopter specifications in 2003, benefitting AgustaWestland.
The Milan appeals court recently sentenced former bosses of Finmeccanica and its AgustaWestland unit to jail terms for false accounting and corruption in the Indian defence deal.
Modi’s stinging attack came days before Tamil Nadu goes to the polls with incumbent chief minister J Jayalalithaa hoping to buck trend and come back to power. The Congress has tied up with principal opposition party DMK.
The PM offered the BJP as an alternative to the two Dravidian parties in the state, reminding the people about the 2G spectrum allocation scam in which DMK leaders are accused.
“Earlier 2G,3G and how many Gs happened. God knows even the wind they did not spare. It is not about who will win but who will save Tamil Nadu,” he said.