New Delhi, Feb. 13: The Congress today appeared unfazed by the BJP’s attempt to present the AgustaWestland helicopter deal as “Bofors II”, asserting that all should wait for the outcome of the probe ordered by the defence ministry.
The party also reminded the Opposition to recall the Bofors judgment before making allegations against its leaders.
The Congress said it wanted to hide nothing, hence a CBI probe had been ordered without any pressure from any quarter. Defence minister A.K. Antony’s clean image and the Integrity Pact introduced by the government have come as a shield for the party.
The Integrity Pact is a pre-contract agreement between the buyer and the bidder to avoid all forms of corruption in a defence deal worth over Rs 300 crore. The pact prevents the bidder from bribing anyone to secure the contract and any violation allows the buyer to cancel the contract and recover all payments made in the transaction. The UPA brought this pact in 2005.
Hurt by the BJP’s attempt to highlight the Italy connection, Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said: “The BJP is trying to create a smokescreen of corruption on defence deals before the crucial budget session of Parliament.
“There can be no illegality in a defence deal now because of the Integrity Pact and if any irregularity is found, the government will get its money back and the contract would be terminated.”
Chacko continued: “The BJP was interested in creating doubts in the public mind whereas we wanted to investigate and pin down the culprit.
“The charge that we delayed institution of the probe is wrong as the Indian government had been writing to the Italian embassy for information but didn’t get anything. We cannot treat findings by a foreign government as legal evidence. Hence the government has ordered a probe.”
Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said: “Our defence minister has handed over the case to the CBI. Had it been the NDA government, what would they have done? Can anyone be hanged without investigation?
“The purchase of Westland helicopters was proposed by the NDA regime. Secondly, it is the best helicopter available in this sector. Thirdly, it was bought at a price extremely competitive in its sector.”
On the allegation of kickbacks, Digvijaya said: “The Italian government has found certain instances where commission or bribe has been paid for which they have taken action. The moment the government of India came to know, it has set up a CBI investigation. Where is the question of taking any more action? I will request the BJP to suggest what more can be done.”
External affairs minister Salman Khurshid also dismissed suggestions that the alleged scam was “Bofors II”, saying the Opposition should understand most allegations in the Bofors case were rejected by the Supreme Court.
“India was in touch with authorities in Italy over the (chopper) case. We obviously expected that they would keep us informed at an appropriate stage,” he said.
On the charge of delay in action, Khurshid said: “There is such a thing as lawful. Whatever has to be done by law should be done and I don’t think that we should do anything that is done to please the Opposition or because somebody puts pressure on us. What is lawfully required and what is lawfully justified is what will be done.”