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Choppy deal

29 Apr. 2016 12:01 AM IST

It has been and will continue to be a stormy session in parliament after the BJP went on a full scale counter-attack against the Congress over the Agusta Westland Helicopter scandal which had a long story beginning from 1999 during the first NDA government ’s regime. Since 2014, there seems to be no end to controversies and political duel which have set the house on fire. Before the current session resumed, the controversies arising out of the imposition of President’s Rule first in Arunachal Pradesh and then Uttarakhand, seemed to be the ammunition which the opposition Congress would fire against the BJP-led NDA government. However, the BJP had something in store when it countered with a high voltage media blitz with the Agusta Westland helicopter deal. For recently nominated Rajya Sabha member and BJP leader Subramaniam Swamy, it was a perfect opportunity to hit at the Gandhi family. However, his attacks on Sonia in the upper house were expunged by the chairman on the ground that no member of the other house could be attacked since that member was not present to defend herself or himself. The Agusta Westland helicopter deal began after the then NDA government in 1999 floated a tender for purchase of new helicopters to replace the Soviet Mi-8 helicopters being used to transport the VVIPs, which had completed their technical life. In February 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a government contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. In 2013, however, the deal was put on hold by the UPA government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with IAF. The following day, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter. In January 2014, before the May Lok Sabha election, the then UPA government cancelled the US$630 million deal. Following this event, in June 2014 India recovered the entire sum of Rs 1,818 crore which it had paid to the company. Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam named former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, stating that he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AgustaWestland. A CBI report said that after Tyagi became Air chief the IAF conceded to reduce the altitude requirements which clearly paved way for the AgustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process. The Italian court was also believed to have said that Finmeccanica, Gandhi, some close aides, Singh and Narayan had actively lobbied to seal the deal. Sonia Gandhi was supposedly described by the court as the force behind the deal. The court is also believed to have quoted a middleman has having mentioned Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel and former Air Chief S P Tyagi in the judgement. As political temperatures continued to rise, BJP president Amit Shah asked Sonia to come clean over the scam. Leaving aside political brownie points, a PIL in the Supreme Court could perhaps shed light and also lead to bringing those guilty to book.

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