Target Sonia: AgustaWestland helps BJP gun for Cong in Parliament
BJP turned the tables on the Congress and decided to drag party president Sonia Gandhi into the 2010 AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal after an Italian court said that there was "reasonable belief that corruption took place".
Details of the Italian court's ruling include letters which find mention of Sonia Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but do not suggest any wrong doing. However, a letter from a middle man naming "Signora Gandhi" as the "driving force behind the deal" has given BJP enough ammunition to target the Congress president.
Addressing the media, Union minister of Communications and IT Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the then UPA government of graft and said that AK Antony, Congress leader and then defense minister, had confirmed that corruption had taken place.
Prasad said, "Bribe-givers have been convicted, why are the bribe-takers silent? If he (Antony) said that bribe has been given, he should tell us if any Congress leader is involved". BJP did not take any names but the insinuations are very clear. It is not just the verdict in this case in Italy, it is the timing which matters more to the BJP.
The BJP is under attack from the Opposition, especially the Congress, since the resumption of the Budget Session mainly because of the recent developments in Uttarakhand. Now BJP is planning to counter the Congress by focusing on the helicopter deal and the Ishrat Jahan case. The BJP has a majority in the Lok Sabha and the small Congress contingent led by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi might find it difficult to handle the government's offensive.
"Baat niklegi to phir dur talaq jaayegi (if word gets out, it will go a long way)" said Prasad. That's a clear indication of the government's strategy.
The BJP parliamentary party met on Tuesday morning before the Houses assembled. The MPs were briefed by senior leaders including Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu about issues such as the helicopter deal, Ishrat Jahan case and the Uttarakhand crisis.
There was a high level meeting of a core group of the BJP as well to discuss how to tackle this issue in the House. MPs like Meenakshi Lekhi and Anurag Thakur also attended this meeting. Thakur has given a notice on the issue in Lok Sabha whereas Subhramanian Swamy has given a notice in the Rajya Sabha. He has said that the question hour should be suspended and a short duration discussion should take place.
The timing of the counter attacks is also important. The Supreme Court would be hearing the petition related to the developments in Uttarakhand around the same time as the tussle goes on in Parliament.
This gives BJP a good opportunity to deal with either eventuality. If SC rules in its favour, it would be a victory over the Congress. And if the SC's ruling goes against the BJP, it will try and divert attention through a counter-attack.
Congress would undoubtedly become more aggressive both inside and outside the House if the SC rules in its favour. But the BJP's attack on the helicopter deal and Ishrat Jahan could force the party to tone down.
The party will use the vocabulary of national interest and national security. This will help the government divide the Opposition, which is crucial given the support Congress got from other parties on the Uttarakhand issue. But one thing is clear, it's prime target would be Sonia Gandhi.
Once the VVIP helicopter controversy erupted, Congress leaders rushed to Sonia's defence calling it a "malicious campaign" of the ruling party. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said that the decision to chose AgustaWestland was done due to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's decision to change the flying altitude of helicopters.
"This is very important to note that the decision to alter the mandatory requirement of the helicopter flying at an altitude of 6,000 metres was made in a meeting between the then Principal Secretary and Prime Minister in November 2003," Sharma told reporters. He added, "Let me also tell you that the removal of AgustaWestland was done by this government from the blacklist despite objections on record by the Indian Security Establishment."
Accusing the present government of removing AgustaWestland from black-list to bid for projects in Indian Navy. "This was objected on record in writing by the Enforcement Directorate and by the CBI. So, my question is - why the removal? Why giving them the green signal and invitation to participate in the bids? That is a very fundamental question."
With BJP ready to raise issue in both houses of the Parliament on Wednesday, the next few days could see heated exchanges between the two parties. With numbers in their favour in Rajya Sabha, the Congress should be able to weather the storm, but could find itself in a very uncomfortable position in the Lok Sabha where it has only 45 members as compared to 280 of the BJP. What could further put the Congress in a tight spot would be the lack of good speakers in the lower house who have repeatedly failed to defend the party in earlier debates.
Edited by Aditya Menon