Cong-BJP tiff sharpens in LS over Agusta debate

RSTV Bureau

Manohar-Parrikar-in-Lok-Sabha-1Union Defense minister Manohar Parrikar mounted strong attack on the Congress party over AgustaWestland controversy asserting that all the alleged irregularities took place during UPA tenure. Under cloud but in a combat mode, Congress party questioned allegations even as they sought supreme court-monitored CBI probe.

Speaking on the floor of Lok Sabha, Parrikar said that the main beneficiaries of the alleged kickbacks in awarding multi-crore VVIP chopper deal will be tracked.

“I hope members are satisfied and members will support government in finding the truth. The truth may lead to many unwanted realism. What we could not do in Bofors, may be we will do it in AgustaWestland,” he said adding, “CBI is very seriously investigating the case”.

Replying to a debate on the Calling Attention Motion on Friday, the Defense minister claimed that UPA government did “everything” to help AgustaWestland bag the Rs 3600 crore deal for purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters. He went on to further question the investigation during the Congress-led UPA tenure dubbing it “forced by circumstances” and not pro-active.

Targeting his predecessor AK Antony, he told the lower house that Antony acted only after a top official of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, was arrested in Italy in connection with bribery in the deal.

Responding to Congress contention that the Italian judge had said that there was no evidence against Sonia Gandhi, Parrikar said it was half-truth as the judge had said that it was for India to investigate and for its investigating agencies to “prove the guilt of people who are suspected”.

Sonia-n-Kharge-Lok-SabhaManohar Parrikar further alleged that Congress party had close links with Christian Michel, the middleman in the deal, and the contract was given to a company which had not even participated in the tendering process. The tender was submitted by Italy-based AgustaWestland but the contract was given to the UK-based Agusta Westland International Ltd (AWIL), which was not Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), the Defense minister said.

Even though he didn’t name anybody, Parrikar’s speech was subject to repeated uproar by the Congress members.

“Why are you (Congress) concerned? I have not named anybody… You seem to know where the ganga was going,” he said.

On the other hand, Congress sought to put the onus on the ruling NDA government about the irregularities in Agusta Westland helicopter deal and demanded a Supreme Court monitored probe in the issue.

“Do not level baseless allegations. Answer the questions which we are raising. Supreme Court monitored investigation should happen and its reports should be placed in the House every three months,” senior Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia said.

Emphasising that it was practice of the BJP members to level wrong and baseless allegations and through that create an illusion, Scindhia added “We too have taken an oath that we will break that mayajaal (illusion) and place the facts in front of the country and this House”.

Pointing that VVIP chopper deal was started during the NDA regime in 1999, the Congress MP also stressed that the issue they are talking about bringing down the height of the helicopter from 6000 to 4500 metres, it was done by NDA government in 2003 and not the UPA. In December 2003, a letter was written from the Prime Minister’s Office to change the norms and make it 4500 metres, Scindia said.

Stoutly defending his party President, the Congress leader said nowhere did the name of Sonia Gandhi was mentioned.

“24 months have passed of your government, what have you done in 720 days of your government? Have you brought in a single penny? Have you even identified a single person who has indulged in corruption,” Scindhia asked.

(With inputs from the PTI)