The multi-crore AgustaWestland helicopter scam that will come up for discussion in Parliament on Wednesday has been the catalyst for political fireworks between the government and the opposition in the Rajya Sabha in the past week.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) newly-nominated member of Parliament Subramanian Swamy was the first to drag Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s name into the controversy over the VVIP chopper scam. Though his comments were later expunged, it led to a war of words with the main Opposition party.
On April 27, the Upper House had to be adjourned several times when members of Congress party rose in protest against Swamy, who had earlier taken Sonia and her son Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to court over the National Herald case, for bringing in their chief’s name.
A day later, the BJP MP again stoked tempers in the House after making references to the Constitution of another country, provoking Leader of the Opposition, Ghulam Nabi Azad, to protest and point out that Swamy does not “know the difference between street language and parliamentary words.”
Swamy also moved a breach of privilege notice in the Rajya Sabha against Azad for claiming that the UPA government had blacklisted AgustaWestland and its Italian parent Finmeccanica.
The controversy over the deal resurfaced last month 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 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 Trinamool Congress is also training its guns against Congress for its alleged involvement in the scam. The TMC raised the AgustaWestland issue in the Upper House on Monday and insisted on identifying who ‘Gandhi’ and ‘AP’ mentioned in the alleged bribery case were.
TMC member Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, who raised the issue despite the rejection of his notice for an adjournment, was asked by chairman Hamid Ansari to withdraw from the House for the day.
Even as Congress has been vehemently denying the charges and has said that the UPA had blacklisted Finmeccanica, defence minister Manohar Parrikar is expected to put on record how dealings with the company were put on hold only on July 3, 2014, after the NDA government came to power to tear into the Congress’ arguments.