Govt puts Cong on defence on AW deal

Long after Adam Smith mentioned about an “invisible hand” to build his case for free market, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar used the term apparently to hint at the role of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in precluding a proper investigation earlier into the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland deal.

Amid din and frequent disruptions in the Rajya Sabha, he pointed out that despite registering a case on March 12, 2013, the CBI did not forward a copy of the FIR to the ED for nine months. On its part, the ED too did not act on the FIR till July 2014. “It appears an invisible hand was guiding action or inaction of CBI and ED,” the Minister said. Now investigation into the deal is going on which “will focus on roles of those named in the judgment of Italian court… Government will leave no stone unturned in bringing to justice those involved in the scam.”

His remarks were too much for the grand old party to bear; it boycotted him.

Earlier, Congress leader and prominent lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi presented an excellent defence of his party. It even elicited a sort of left-handed compliment from Parrikar. He said. “Abhishek Manu Singhvi almost convinced me by his argument, now I understand how convincing he is. But the brief is very weak, and even the best advocate can’t win the case.”

Singhvi said, “The ‘AP’ could stand for many people including the present Chief Minister of Gujarat,” though he did not name Anandiben Patel.

The innuendos against Sonia, Rahul Gandhi, and Ahmed Patel the “visceral hatred” the BJP harbors for the GOP. “The interest appears to be to keep the pot boiling, not to reach a conclusion and keep finger pointing,” Singhvi said. Quoting the Italian judge, Singhvi said: “The judge who wrote this Italian judgment… the judge spoke extensively to a channel in India… He says ‘We’ve no evidence against Sonia Gandhi, only a mention of her in the facts. The translations of the facts were sent to Mr. Michell. Ms. Gandhi has been indicated as someone who will fly in the VVIP helicopters. The same place is the mention of [former prime minister] Manmohan Singh’.”

However, it was BJP leader Subramanian Swamy who stole the show by an oration that combined facts with logic and aggression with wit. He didn’t name Sonia directly; he called her as the “person whom I can’t name otherwise you [Chair] will expunge it.” In his speech, he used “blank, blank, blank” instead of the names of Congress leaders, to considerable effect in the House and on the viewers.

He also made an issue of the fact that Singhvi was allowed to quote a letter, based on which certain remarks he (Swamy) had made last week were expunged. The BJP leader said, “There is no law that I can’t quote from a letter but other member from the same House can.”

Swamy built his case like a lawyer, starting with admitted facts, criminality, and how to proceed in investigations. Though not a qualified lawyer, his knowledge of the law is second to none, thanks to his involvement in a myriad of cases of public interest.

Swamy said, “One person in the Air Force [referring to former Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi] cannot be alone behind this. The Italian investigators reveal that Indian politician and bureaucrats were involved in the scandal.”

Further, he said, “The first trait of corruption was out when the IAF decided to lower the service ceiling of the choppers. It was agreed to be 6,000 metres as the shoulder missiles cannot strike at such huge heights. However, national security was compromised by reducing the height to 4,500 metres in September 2006. But objective was that VVIPs should be able to fly to remote areas such as Siachen/North-East and, therefore, ought to fly at heights above 6,000 metres and should be out range of shoulder rockets. It is a lie to say that NDA government was the one to change specification of height [of the helicopters]. Objective of purchase was VVIPs will be able to fly at greater heights.”

Secondly, he continued, the parameters of cabin were changed to suit AgustaWestland. “No helicopter in the world has a cabin height of more than 1.45 metres. But, here, the cabin height was deliberately changed to 1.8 metres. This is a crime. Changing the cabin height affects the functioning of helicopter.”

Swamy further alleged that AW-101 helicopters which were originally bought from AgustaWestland, were not used in field trials conducted in Italy. “Why was the field trial conducted in Italy? Maybe, it is a beautiful place that’s why. But why wasn’t the AW-101 aircraft used? This is a clear case of fraud,” he said.

Swamy demanded that Manmohan Singh should specify the reason why India did not disclose all the documents before the Italian investigators. “I know he is personally an honest man. I don’t doubt his integrity. But he listens easily to some people. That was his biggest minus point,” he said.

Swamy also took a dig at Brajesh Mishra, the national security advisor and principal secretary to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Mishra had brought down the flying height worthiness of eligible choppers from 6,000 meters to 4,500 meters to avoid a single vendor situation. “He was a civil servant in NDA government. After you [UPA] came, you decorated him with Padma Vibhshan only one less than Bharat Ratna. Why? One day I will find it out,” Swamy said sarcastically.

All in all, the Wednesday debate in Rajya Sabha was good inasmuch as there was a discussion, despite occasional pandemonium. And a late boycott: another instance of the invisible hand directing the Congress’ course?