If Wednesday was any indication, the rest of the Parliament session will see the two sides scoring brownie points against each other, and the Gandhis can expect more enemy fire directed at them, says Rashme Sehgal.
Both Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi faced a concerted attack in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
While Bharatiya Janata Party members in the Rajya Sabha targeted Sonia Gandhi, accusing her of being the “driving force” behind the AgustaWestland helicopter acquisitions, in the Lok Sabha BJP member Kirit Somaiya hit out at Rahul’s involvement in the scam.
It is obvious that the ruling party wants to cripple India’s grand old party by tying down its First Family in a host of accusations and, so far, they seem to have achieved their objective.
Somaiya landed a hard jab at Rahul, alleging that he was a beneficiary via his close aide Kanishka Singh.
Somaiya maintained that Kanishka Singh held shares in Emaar MGF Land Ltd, a real estate company founded by his close relatives which also had Guido Ralph Haschke, one of the middlemen in the AgustaWestland case, as its director. Somaiya further claimed that Haschke was involved in the Commonwealth Games scam, insisting that “this could not be a mere coincidence”.
Somaiya alleged that Rahul had bought shops in the Emaar MGF mall and sold them back to MGF. Hitting below the belt, he questioned Gandhi’s intention behind purchasing these shops, and wondered if he had decided to leave politics and start a grocery shop.
“Rahul Gandhi and his brother-in-law Robert Vadra have started a new scheme, which takes a kickback with DLF. Rahul Gandhi has admitted that he has bought shops. I would like him to disclose at what price he bought them and to whom he had given them on lease. He bought them and again sold them to MGF,” Somaiya was quoted as having said by a news agency reporter.
Countering Somaiya’s allegations, Rahul clarified that he did purchase shops from a mall owned by MGF and had mentioned the same in his affidavit submitted to the Election Commission in 2014. Ever willing to play the victim, Gandhi said, “I am always being targeted. I am happy to be targeted.”
The Rajya Sabha saw charges being traded by both sides, with the ruling party’s attack being launched by a pugnacious Subramanian Swamy who did not hesitate to attack Sonia Gandhi who, he maintained, could be subject to questioning by the Central Bureau of Investigation under Section 156 of the CrPC, especially since her name found mention in the recent Italian court judgment in the matter.
Swamy highlighted that the United Progressive Alliance government had twisted rules to suit AW. Among the changes undertaken was the cabin height specification of the chopper was changed from 1.45 metres to 1.80 metres to suit AW. While the Indian Air Force had in 2004 insisted that VVIP choppers must be able to fly up to 6000 metres for safety reason, the Agusta choppers were chosen even though they could not fly above 4500 metres.
But his most serious charge was that field trials were done with a different model from the one purchased, and the deal was cleared on the basis of these trials, making it a ripe case for prosecution under Section 420 of the IPC.
Both sides traded charges over AG reportedly having paid Rs 375 crores in bribe for the supply of 12 VVIP choppers at a cost of Rs 3,700 crores. While the process of purchase of helicopters was started under the A B Vajpayee regime, the actual contract was signed in 2010 by the UPA.
Although the Congress went ahead and cancelled the contract and even recovered some money once news broke of corruption in the deal, the scam resurfaced last month after the names of several Congress leaders were mentioned in a judgment by the Italian court in Milan.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar came armed with a great deal of facts and figures around the deal, insisting that the nation wanted to know who had “instigated, supported and benefited” from this corruption. “The fact that there was corruption in this matter is brought out in extensive details in recent judgments of the Milan court which had proof of mala fide intent and corruption,” Parrikar said, insisting that the government was determined to bring the guilty to book.
Heading Parrikar’s list of charges was the fact that the field trials conducted abroad were not on the model of the choppers that were finally bought. The issue of field evaluation trials is extremely significant given that the topographical conditions here differ from that of the US and the UK.
His other complaint was that the UPA regime had created a “single-vendor situation” to benefit AW. “It appears an ‘invisible hand’ was guiding the action or inaction of the CBI and ED,” he said in the Upper House.
Former defence minister AK Antony was on the offensive when he took on the BJP, insisting, “Take action if you have evidence, but don’t threaten and blackmail us”.
“Don’t try to politicise this issue. You will have to repent later. After the first report in the media on the alleged scam in the helicopter deal, we acted immediately. We blacklisted six companies at one go. This sent out a message that we do not tolerate corruption,” he said.
Antony insisted that the issue should not be politicised, and demanded that the the BJP government not threaten or blackmail but take legal action against the bribe-takers.
Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi said the mention of Sonia Gandhi and other political leaders in the Italian judgment could not be seen as an indictment of them since it merely mentioned them as VVIPs who would use the choppers.
Ridiculing the BJP’s attempt to link certain initials like “CP, VP and AP” to the deal, Singhvi cited the hawala case in which the initials ‘LKA’ had been noted down in the infamous diary but the Delhi high court had ruled that the initials of an individual could be not considered to be evidence.
The discussion on the AW deal will continue through this session of Parliament, since a scam of this magnitude will not go away in a hurry. The Bofors scam of the late 1980s led to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi being ultimately voted out.
The charges and counter-charges in the AW case will see political parties scoring brownie points but since both the NDA and UPA played a major role in pushing the deal through, it is most likely that the Congress’s top leaders will see a great deal of mud being thrown at them.
Image: Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and Congress leader of the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge watch the proceedings in the Lower House on Wednesday. Photograph: TV grab by PTI Photo.