Seeking to shield Sonia and Rahul Gandhi from allegations in the AgustaWestland bribery case, former defence minister A K Antony on Monday said the two top Congress leaders 'never interfered' in the VVIP chopper deal or any defence contract during the United Progressive Alliance regime.
The assertion by Antony in which he also accused the Bharatiya Janata Party and the government of 'manufacturing' lies came on a day of escalating political war of words in the AgustaWestland chopper deal with BJP president Amit Shah leading the party offensive against the Gandhis.
In a series of tweets, Shah said the 'friendship' between Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the deal, and Congress' top leadership is 'time tested and deep'.
He also asked what is this 'Family Balm' that every middleman wants.
As part of its nation-wide campaign to attack the Congress over Michel's statement to the Enforcement Directorate, the BJP fielded its chief ministers and top leaders in state capitals across the country.
Yogi Adityanath, Devendra Fadnavis, Jai Ram Thakur and Trivendra Singh Rawat -- the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand respectively -- were among those who addressed news conferences.
Adityanath claimed that the Rs 3,700 crore AgustaWestland deal during the UPA regime involved a bribery of around Rs 360 crore, out of which the Congress leaders got Rs 150 crore. He, however, did not elaborate on his claim.
The BJP's senior state leaders also spoke to reporters in Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, according to a party leader in Delhi.
The BJP stepped up its attack on the Congress and its leaders in the wake of the alleged reference made by Michel about one 'Mrs Gandhi', as told by the ED to a Delhi court.
The Congress, has, however, rejected the allegations and has counter-alleged that it was the Modi government that was a 'protector, benefactor and promoter' of AgustaWestland as it lifted a ban imposed on the helicopter maker during the UPA rule and allowed it to bid for 100 naval utility helicopters.
"I would like to say categorically that (UPA chairperson) Sonia Gandhi and (Congress president) Rahul Gandhi never showed any interest ... never interfered in the AgustaWestland deal.
"During my entire tenure as defence minister, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deal," Antony told a press conference in Parliament premises.
"The government and the BJP are misusing agencies to manufacture lies. I am surprised to know that the present government is spreading lies....is trying to manufacture something out of nothing," Antony said.
"Without any iota of truth, they are trying to follow vendetta politics."
Antony further said it was the Congress-led UPA government that ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry the moment it came to know of corruption allegations in the AgustaWestland deal and initiated proceedings to blacklist the company.
Antony claimed that the UPA government fought the case 'unusually' in a Milan court against the chopper-making company and won it too.
"We cancelled the contract and started proceedings of blacklisting. But after we left, the Modi government did nothing against AgustaWestland. Instead of acting against the company, they favoured the company," he said.
Antony said if the Congress had anything to hide, it would not have ordered a CBI probe or gone to Italy to fight the case.
On the BJP's charges of the Congress being jittery ever since Michel was extradited to India, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said this was like 'chor machaye shor' (the thief is making noise).
In his tweets, Shah asked if Michel wanted details of his questioning by investigators to be passed onto 'Mrs Gandhi'.
'Trails of the AgustaWestland Case…the SOS of Christian Michel. Does anyone know why Christian Michel passed on the details of questioning on Mrs Gandhi to his lawyer? Did he want them to be passed on to Mrs. Gandhi herself? Why?' he tweeted.
Shah said Michel's lawyer had admitted that the alleged middleman indeed passed a paper to him and claimed that he thought it was a list of medicines.
In this context, the BJP president took an apparent swipe at the Gandhi family, saying people have heard of Zandu balm and Tiger balm -- medicines used to relieve pain -- but what is this 'family balm' that every middleman wants.
'In any case, what must be told again and again is the Congress background of Michel's lawyer. The so called expulsion remains a sham. He remains the conduit between Michel and Mrs Gandhi!' Shah said.
The Congress had expelled Aljo K Joseph, an office bearer in its youth wing, after he appeared as a counsel for Michel.
'In national interest, Michel's lawyer must tell us about the existence of documents of 2008, which make a reference to Mrs Gandhi. Evidently, the friendship between Michel and one family in India is time tested and deep,' Shah said.
Fadnavis said Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi need to answer questions related to allegations of corruption in the AgustaWestland scam.
Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani claimed the Congress was trying to give a 'political colour' to the chopper case and questioned why the party was scared of a probe.