New Delhi: Former defence minister and senior Congress leader A K Antony accused the ruling BJP and the government Monday of “manufacturing” lies in the Agusta Westland case and said Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered in any defence deal during the UPA regime.
“The government and the BJP are misusing agencies to manufacture lies. I am surprised to know that the present government is spreading lies…is trying to manufacture something out of nothing,” he told reporters here. “I would like to categorically say that Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi never showed any interest and never interfered in the AgustaWestland deal. Not only that, in the entire period of my defence ministership, Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi never interfered in defence deals and procurement,” the veteran leader said.
Addressing a press conference in Parliament, Antony said, “Without any iota of truth, they (government and BJP) are trying to follow vendetta politics.” The comments came following a slugfest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday. While the opposition party alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government were AgustaWestland’s protectors and promoters, the saffron party accused it of defending Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the deal, and asked why was it scared of a probe into the case.
Antony said it was the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government that had ordered a CBI inquiry the moment it had come to know of the corruption allegations in the VVIP AgustaWestland helicopter deal and initiated the proceedings to blacklist the company. He claimed that the UPA government fought the case “unusually” in a Milan court against the chopper-manufacturing company and won it too. “We cancelled the contract and started the proceedings of blacklisting. But after we left, the Modi government did nothing against AgustaWestland. Instead of acting against the company, they favoured the company,” Antony said.
He added that if the Congress had anything to hide, it would not have ordered a CBI probe into the AgustaWestland deal or gone to Italy to fight the case. The senior Congress leader alleged that the government and the BJP were trying to divert attention from the allegations raised by his party on the Rafale fighter jets deal and not ordering an inquiry or a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the charges. “During our time, whenever there were allegations, even in media reports, we took action and held an inquiry,” Antony said.
On the BJP’s charges of the Congress being jittery ever since Michel was extradited to India, the chief spokesperson of the opposition party, Randeep Surjewala, said this was like “chor machaye shor” (the thief making noise). Antony said in this case, AgustaWestland was selected after a first technical evaluation by a team of officials and a detailed field evaluation by a team comprising Air Force, Special Protection Group (SPG) and defence ministry officials. “They had selected AgustaWestland out of these two companies which were suited and eligible. So, the Field Evaluation Committee had recommended AgustaWestland. It was not a political issue. It was purely an official decision, based on recommendations by a team consisting of Air Force, SPG and defence ministry officials,” he said.
On whether the BJP government renewed its attacks on the Congress leadership to counter the alleged Rafale scam, the former defence minister said, “There is a possibility, because even now, the present government is not able to answer many of the questions we posed. “I posed five questions, they did not answer those. We posed many questions and the entire Opposition is demanding a JPC on Rafale in a House in which they have got a majority. Their chairman will be there. So, they are panicking. May be they want to divert attention.”
Whether the Congress will launch a counter-offensive against the BJP’s propaganda, he said, “They are going to propagate lies. We are propagating the truth. So, lies will not stand in the face of truth.” Responding to a question on the BJP’s claim that blacklisting of AgustaWestland could have affected operational preparedness, Antony said it had nothing to do with operational preparedness.
“This helicopter is not for military operation. It is for VVIP movement, for the president, vice-president and the prime minister. It was cancelled in 2014. After that, the present government also has not taken any step to procure another helicopter. Instead, during our time and the NDA’s time also, for VVIP usage, the government is using the Russian MI-18 upgraded helicopters. It has nothing to do with operational preparedness, it is VVIP movement. That is going on smoothly from about 2014 till today with Russian Helicopters.”