A huge ruckus erupted in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as the BJP, executing its gameplan, tried to drag the name of Congress president Sonia Gandhi into the controversial Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland
A huge ruckus erupted in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday as the BJP, executing its gameplan, tried to drag the name of Congress president Sonia Gandhi into the controversial Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal, and angry Congress members erupted in protest, storming the Well of the House and paralysing proccedings for over an hour.
Mrs Gandhi took the BJP head on and hit back, saying she was “not afraid” of being “cornered” on the deal. “I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis to that. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false and baseless,” Mrs Gandhi declared, calling it an attempt at “character assassination”.
After the Upper House witnessed verbal duels between Congress and BJP MPs, two Cabinet ministers, sources said, held parleys with senior Congress leaders in a bid to broker peace. Sources said finance minister Arun Jaitley and parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu held discussions with Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress deputy leader in the House Anand Sharma over lunch. Mr Naidu, it was learnt, had invited them for the meeting.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, however, challenged the Congress to show the UPA government’s order blacklisting AgustaWestland. Former PM Manmohan Singh, whose name was also dragged into the issue by the BJP, said in a crisp reply: “There is no case, my party will respond.”
Earlier, a verbal duel erupted in the Rajya Sabha between Congress members and the treasury benches over newly nominated MP Subramaniam Swamy seeking to drag Mrs Gandhi’s name into the controversial AgustaWestland deal bribery case. This led to two adjournments of the Upper House in the pre-noon session. Mrs Gandhi’s name was later expunged by deputy chairman P.J. Kurien. BJP members had given a notice for discussion on the issue on Wednesday.
Outside Parliament, the BJP kept the pressure and tried to ridicule Mrs Gandhi, asking her to use her “old relations” in Italy to find out why an Italian court had mentioned her name in the AgustaWestland bribery case. Mrs Gandhi, who said she was “not afraid”, also demanded a “probe to find out the truth”.
Union minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy said the government would “fulfil the Congress chief’s demand for a thorough probe, whose modalities will be decided once defence minister Manohar Parrikar makes a statement in Parliament on the issue”. Mr Rudy tried to sound sarcastic as he said that “more revelations will come”.
Former defence minister A.K. Antony, refuting the BJP’s accusations, claimed that “no witnesses mentioned names of Congress leaders in the Italian court”. The Italian court documents, as claimed by the BJP, had allegedly named Mrs Gandhi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and some other Congress leaders including Ahmed Patel and Oscar Fernandes.
Mr Ahmed Patel, Mrs Gandhi’s political secretary and a senior party leader, dismissed the accusations against him, saying these were “absolutely baseless”. He asked: “Why doesn’t the government probe instead of hurling accusations ” Mr Patel then added: “If there is something against me, they should find out and hang me.”
In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge demanded that the issues relating to the AgustaWestland deal and the reports appearing in the media be discussed. Mr Kharge said that as the names of leaders of his party had been mentioned in media reports, the issue should be discussed. “Names have appeared. We will have to think about it. We should discuss,” he said. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, however, ruled Question Hour could not be suspended and the issue could be discussed later after a proper notice was given by Mr Kharge.
Former national security adviser M.K. Narayanan, whose name also cropped up in the Italian court documents, said he had played no role in the controversial helicopter deal and there was no talk of kickbacks till the time he left the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010 to take charge as governor of West Bengal.
Mr Narayanan endorsed the decision of former NSA Brajesh Mishra in the Atal Behari Vajpayee government that there should not be a single vendor for the deal that, he said, the UPA government had implemented in “letter and spirit”.
Responding to a query on him being allegedly named a “key adviser” to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Mr Narayanan said the issue was something that is “neither here nor there”, and that it was a revelation to him. “I came to know today, as a matter of fact, that I was a key adviser to Mrs Gandhi,” Mr Narayanan told a TV news channel.
Asked if he was aware of alleged kickbacks and bribes involved in the deal, Mr Narayanan said he had left the PMO in 2010 after being named West Bengal governor. He also refused to respond to charges made by the BJP against him, saying: “Don’t get me involved in a conflict between govt A or govt B.”