Congress chief Sonia Gandhi should reveal who received “kickbacks” in a controversial 2010 helicopter deal, BJP president Amit Shah said on Thursday as he attempted to corner the opposition party on corruption charges.
The raging row sparked fireworks in Parliament where BJP leader Subramanian Swamy’s remarks linking Gandhi to the AgustaWestland deal were expunged for the second straight day and the Rajya Sabha member rapped for the comments.
In West Bengal, home minister Rajnath Singh attempted to make the graft allegations an election issue.“Where are those who received the kickbacks? Who were in power at that time? They are responsible and they should bring out the truth,” Shah said.
The strong remarks underline the BJP’s strategy of pushing the Congress on the back foot after the opposition party stalled Parliament repeatedly over the past two sessions and hurt the government’s reform agenda.
The charges over the VVIP chopper deal erupted two days ago when documents in an Italian court referenced middlemen mentioning top Congress leaders, including Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh.
A subsidiary of Italian defence major Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland allegedly paid around `375 crores as bribe, a revelation that led to the agreement being scrapped by the then UPA government in 2014.
The BJP alleges the bribe was paid to top Congress leaders and is attacking the opposition party inside and outside Parliament at a time when assembly elections are going on in four states.
In the morning, Shah criticised Gandhi’s remarks a day before when she had said she “wasn’t afraid” of the allegations, saying her mindset was the reason behind such scams.
“When the National Herald corruption case happens, you say you do not fear anybody. When the AgustaWestland case occurs, you say you do not fear nobody...I want to tell her that we in the BJP are afraid of the Constitution, rules and public norms,” he said.
In West Bengal where the BJP is locked in an uphill three-way battle, Singh used the allegations to attack the Left-Congress alliance.
“The communist parties showcase themselves as champions of probity in public life. The silence of its top leadership on chopper scam is deafening. Serious allegations have been leveled against top leadership of the Congress,” he said in Bishnupur.
In the Rajya Sabha during a discussion on the minority status of Aligarh Muslim University, Swamy made a reference to the constitution of a European country, triggering loud protests from Congress leaders.
Deputy chairperson PJ Kurien expunged the remarks and warned Swamy of “action” for “unnecessarily provoking” the Congress.
But that didn’t satisfy the Congress that said Swamy didn’t know the difference between “street language” and “parliamentary words”. “The problem is the new gift of the BJP. There are 365 days in a year, how many times are you going to expunge his words?” leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said.
A combative Swamy told reporters he was “sorry” that his remarks were “not expunged as per rules” and that he did “what I came here for” – a reference to his nomination to the Rajya Sabha member by the NDA.
He also said he would move a motion of privilege against Azad for misleading the house by saying the UPA blacklisted AgustaWestland.
On Thursday, Swamy had given a notice to raise an issue regarding the chopper deal, but the chairman removed his name from the final list of speakers in an apparent move to prevent further disruptions of proceedings.