AgustaWestland: how Singhvi tore apart NDA's case against Congress
The first official debate on the AgustaWestland bribery scam proved to be a dampener for the NDA regime. The Congress, led by the newly rehabilitated Abhishek Manu Singhvi, took apart the government's case against its top leadership.
Worse, the government shot itself in the foot by having Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar read out a response, thus missing the chance to launch a full-scale offensive against the Congress.
Even Subramanian Swamy, smarting from the Chair's rebuke and outsmarted by the Opposition, couldn't save the day for the government.
By the end of it, nobody was any wiser about the truth as the two sides just traded details and allegations backed by scant evidence. The Opposition did, however, win the political bout, which the debate essentially was, thanks to the strength of its speakers and their arguments.
Prior to the debate, it was anticipated that BJP's speakers would reveal some details about the scam to conclusively establish the Congress' culpability. Not only did the ruling party fail to do so, it couldn't even conclusively dispel the new facts put forward by Singhvi.
The lawyer-politician was helped in his cause by that his turn to speak came right after Bhupender Yadav's uninspiring opening from the treasury benches.
Taking up the cudgels
Yadav began his speech with an ode to the armed forces, which was entirely unnecessary since the scam relates to the purchase of helicopters for VVIPs, not any equipment for the army. Singhvi, on the other hand, lashed out at the NDA regime at the very outset, alleging the issue had been raised because it was insecure about the "increasing disillusion" with its "non-governance".
Singhvi said the dispute was not over whether corruption had taken place, since both sides agree it had. The dispute instead was over the direction in which public debate over the scam was being pointed through "innuendo" and "insinuations". Singhvi's defence of his party can be encapsulated in these eight points:
- In a bid to exonerate Congress chief Sonia Gandhi from any allegations, Singhvi referred to an interview of the president of the Italian court which heard the case there, in which the judge says, "We have no evidence against Sonia Gandhi".
- Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi's aide who is being linked to the scam was not a director or a shareholder in Emaar MGF, in which Guido Ralph Haschke, a Swiss middleman who is an accused in the case, is said to be a director.
- AP is an initial which the Italian court's judgement says the prosecution understood from an internet search to mean Ahmed Patel. Singhvi recalled that in court hearings on the Hawala scam of 1991, it was Arun Jaitley who had argued that initials have no evidential value. Jaitley was then assisting Ram Jethmalani in arguing the case for LK Advani, who had been made an accused after his initials LKA were found to be on a list of beneficiaries. Interestingly, the finance minister, who is also the Leader of the Rajya Sabha, was conspicuous by his absence during the debate.
- Singhvi quoted government documents to declare that it was the UPA government which had started the process of banning Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland's parent company, in February 2014. However, the NDA created so many exceptions to the ban in August 2014 that it was virtually diluted. The defence minister then was Arun Jaitley.
- The NDA regime did not just stop there, going on approve AgustaWestland's foreign investment in a company called Indian Rotorcraft Limited.
- Singhvi further informed the House that it was the UPA government which had, in February 2013, called for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the scam, but the BJP had declined it.
- He also said the UPA government had taken several steps to recover nearly Rs 3,000 crore from AW in cash and kind.
- His most startling revelation was that a much talked-about change in the Request for Proposal for the deal that made AW eligible was made during NDA's rule in August 2002, at the behest of the then NSA Brajesh Mishra.
When the BJP fielded Swamy against him, Singhvi outsmarted him by rushing to complete a procedural formality. The Congressman went to the officers of the House to submit a signed undertaking, accepting responsibility for his claims. This while Swamy was left arguing with the Chair that he would submit his undertaking later. The opposition had challenged Swamy over some of his assertions, and accused him of spreading lies.
As for the other parties, most of them took a cautious stand on the issue.
- Samajwadi Party's Ramgopal Yadav slammed the NDA government for not acting on the case for 2 years.
- Sharad Yadav of the JD(U), too, urged the government not to level false allegations, and take quick action as it had all resources at its disposal.
- CPI's D Raja recalled that it was Jaitley who had rejected the idea of a JPC probe into the scam in 2013, saying it would be a futile exercise.
- NCP's Majid Memon said the Italian court's ruling shouldn't be taken as the gospel truth, and the case must be probed under Indian laws and by Indian agencies.
- Trinamool Congress' Suvendu Shekhar Roy accused Antony of not taking any action in the case for 14 months when he was the defence minister. Alleging the Congress and the BJP were hand in hand, he urged action against the present CAG who was then in-charge of defence acquisitions.
- BSP supremo Mayawati called for a Supreme Court-monitored CBI probe into the scam.
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