NEW DELHI: Finally the insinuations, the trial and execution on the media through carefully planted information, came to a head in the Rajya Sabha with a short duration discussion on the AgustaWestland defence deal. The dust might not have settled on the controversy, but all opposition parties were clear that this deal had become the centre of a needless controversy created by the ruling party “two years after it came to power” and a section of the media who Janata Dal(U) leader referred to as “the nation wants to know” amidst laughter in the House.

The Congress was clear that it had, while in government, accepted that all was not kosher with the defence deal with MP Abhishek Manu Singhvi opening the discussion by pointing out that the UPA government had ordered a CBI enquiry, had cancelled the deal, had impounded the three helicopters that had come in from the initial order, and in the process recovered most of the money spent on the contract for the supply of VVIP helicopters. He said that the UPA government had also started the process of banning the company.

The opposition consensus was, as stated by the leaders of the political parties was:

  1. The government has wasted two years before taking up the issue, and that too on the basis of not its own investigation but an Italian court judgement; Why?
  2. The decisions of an Italian court cannot be the sole base of an enquiry ordered by sovereign India, and that too when two courts there differ in their rulings; this has to be investigated and tried under the Indian law;
  3. The CBI under the strict supervision of the Supreme Court be directed to complete complete its investigation into the deal in a fair, transparent, time bound manner; and that action then should be taken on those found guilty;
  4. That the allegations, mudslinging, political accusations should stop until the investigation is completed;

The Rajya Sabha has been adjourned repeatedly for the past few days on this issue with little headway made till date. MPs from all non-BJP political parties pointed out that the government has the full authority and the power to complete the investigation into the alleged bribes paid for this deal, and to arrest those guilty once the enquiry is complete and final.

The defence deal has had BJP training its guns on the Congress, with sections of the media playing a major role in hurling accusations, organising almost hysterical debates where all kinds of irresponsible allegations are made, and eclipsing serious issues such as the severe drought in 13 states of India with what is being projected as the Narendra Modi versus Sonia Gandhi battle over a defence deal, in which both claim to have taken the necessary steps.

The NDA government has brought in its stormtrooper Subramanian Swamy to target the Congress president directly, with the BJP insisting that there was sufficient in the Italian court papers to target the First Family of the Congress, and the Congress categorical that there is no such evidence. Interestingly, Singhvi categorically denied in the Rajya Sabha that Kanishka Singh, son of former Governor and foreign secretary SK Singh and currently with Rahul Gandhi, was not a shareholder or stakeholder in any company associated with the deal as has been alleged by the ruling establishment and the media. He said that he was ready to face a privilege motion if he was found to have stated an untruth. And went on to say that the initials AP could have meant anyone, and there was nothing in the records to point fingers at Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel. As he pointed out that the current Gujarat Chief Minister has the same initials.

Swamy insisted in the Rajya Saba that his allegations had nothing to do with vendetta, and that the investigation was in an advanced stage. And spoke at length of how the parameters had been changed deliberately by the Congress led government to ensure that only the AgustaWestland was shortlisted and selected. To this the Congress rebuttal was that it moved to cancel the contract after it came to realise that bribes had been paid in this deal.

Mayawati (BSP) said it would have been better to discuss the deal after the investigation was over. Sharad Yadav (JD(U)) wondered at the media, and said the accusations being hurled were vitiating the atmosphere. Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said bureaucrats were terrified of signing off on any defence contract bringing needed procurements to a standstill. D.Raja (CPI) said defence corruption needed to be tackled through policy and tight measures. But all insisted that the investigation should be completed, and that action taken instead of political accusations and mudslinging. Stop it was the message from the Rajya Sabha.