Slugfest in Parliament over VVIP helicopter purchase

NEW DELHI: It was a slugfest on Wednesday between the government and the Congress on the AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal issue, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi daring the government to complete the probe initiated by her party and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley telling Parliament that the probe was “in an advanced stage” and that the “bribe takers” must be identified.

Rajya Sabha MPs Digvijay Singh, Anand Sharma and B.K. Hariprasad during the Parliament Session in New Delhi on Wednesday.

Ms. Gandhi held a meeting with senior party men and floor managers early in the morning at her residence. Coming out of the meeting, unusually for her, she chose to speak to the press.

“I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis for the charges. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false,” Ms. Gandhi said, asking for proof and accusing the government of lying. “They are lying. This is part of a strategy of character assassination which we have known these people indulge in,” she said. “The [BJP] government is there for the last 2 years. What are they doing? Inquiry is there, why don’t they complete it? Complete it as soon as possible, impartially.”

The Congress then moved adjournment motions in both Houses of Parliament, referring to The Hindu report on the alleged middleman, James Christian Michel writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi offering to be interrogated by Indian agencies.

The government, and the ruling party matched the aggression of the Congress both in and outside Parliament. Mr. Jaitley responded to Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad’s adjournment notice saying, that “the principal issue is that there was a defence transaction, and in that defence transaction, there is alleged to be a bribe payment.”

“The bribe giver has been identified and convicted, the identity of the bribe taker has to be established,” he said.

“The bribe giver at the time when the conspiracy was being executed has made some written admission. The relevance of those admissions have to be examined by investigative agencies,” he said.

He categorically denied that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in September 2015, or any deal on the return of two Italian marines under trial in India for the killing of Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala.

In the Rajya Sabha, newly nominated MP, Subramaniam Swamy’s mention of the Congress president’s name in connection with the scam raised a ruckus from the Congress benches.

The BJP’s core team, including party president Amit Shah, had met on Tuesday night, to fine-tune the party’s strategy. “Our MPs Anurag Thakur, Om Birla and Meenakshi Lekhi have moved notices under rules 193 (calling attention) and 197 (short duration discussion) on the issue.

“Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will be responding to the discussion,” said Minister for Skill Development Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

The government also denied that the company, AgustaWestland and Finmeccanica had been removed from a government blacklist.