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10 Questions That Modi Sarkar Must Answer On AgustaWestland Scam

10/05/2016 4:13 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - MAY 3: Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C), Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu (L), Union Minister of Mines, Steel, Labour and Employment Narendra Singh Tomar (R) leave after attending the BJP Parliamentary Board Meeting at Parliament Library on May 3, 2016 in New Delhi, India. With the BJP mounting an offensive against Congress vice-president on the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper bribery case, Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said he is happy to be targeted. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Any perspicacious observer of Indian politics will know that the BJP, whenever on the back-foot, and particularly prior to Parliament sessions, scouts around for red herrings as a diversionary tactic. The sudden brouhaha created by the Narendra Modi-led NDA on the AgustaWestland pay-offs, and the targeting of the Gandhi family, only manifests the ruling government's inherent failures and abysmal performance track-record on multiple fronts over the past two years in power.

But there are several unanswered questions that need to be immediately addressed, because, paradoxically enough, the finger of suspicion points towards the party with the lotus symbol.

1) Is it not true that had the Atal Bihari Vajpayee NDA government not made alterations in technical specifications for VVIP-helicopter purchase by lowering the height from 6000 metres to 4500 metres, AgustaWestland/ Finmeccanica would have not even entered the qualifying stage? What prompted this sudden decision, interestingly just a few months shy of the 2004 elections, when Vajpayee government had initially introduced the proposal for new bidders as early as 1999? An intriguing hurry to get another defence manufacturer in just before a huge national election raises more than eyebrows. This is the crux of the AgustaWestland scam pay-offs.

Since AgustaWestland was under investigation for alleged kickbacks, what was the compelling pressure on the Modi sarkar to invite Finmeccanica back into India for foreign investments?

2) Several defense deals of a suspicious nature happened during the Vajpayee government; BJP president Bangaru Laxman was literally caught boarding the gravy train on a videotape that led to his eventual arrest. Operation Westend exhibited the government's compromised stance on large-ticket deals, particularly on military purchases. The Kargil coffin scam and several other high-profile cases indicate that the BJP-NDA were bartering national interest for commercial gains. Can this be denied?

3) When the Agusta bribery scandal broke out with the arrest by the Italian police of former Finmeccanica CEO Giuseppe Orsi, the Congress-led UPA took the following steps:

a) The government immediately contacted the Italian government and the Indian embassy abroad to obtain comprehensive information to proceed to nab the culprits.

b) A CBI and Enforcement Directorate enquiry was ordered in 2013 itself; FIRs were lodged and scrutiny commenced. The CBI sent letters rogatory to eight countries seeking information.

c) The Finmeccanica deal was frozen, and subsequently terminated by enforcing the Integrity Pact in February 2014 (that disallowed commission payments and employing third-party agents to facilitate and fructify the deal) . The company was officially blacklisted from any future dealings.

d) The UPA government recovered its earnest monies after obtaining a favorable verdict from the Italian courts by encashing bank guarantees worth nearly ₹2000 crore by May 2014. It also confiscated three helicopters valued at ₹900 crore.

The above actions are officially authenticated and documented in the public domain; is that not appropriate action taken in a transparent , prompt execution?

4) Point ( 3) begs the question: since AgustaWestland was under investigation for alleged kickbacks, what was the compelling pressure on the Modi sarkar to invite Finmeccanica back into India for foreign investments (all affiliated companies face similar consequences) , when the rules say that they should be barred from making a re-entry for a period of 10 years? Why did the Modi sarkar make this massive accommodation of giving FIPB approval etc for a JV, and a conspicuous reversal of decision for a discredited business entity within 40 days of authorized blacklisting?

Why was the Modi sarkar willfully delaying a thorough probe? Why was it virtually comatose for two full years? Was it trying to protect those in close proximity...?

Incidentally, why is the Modi sarkar in such a desperate hurry to sign the Rafale jet deal with France which is a "single-vendor deal"? Isn't this a contradiction given their ostensible argument for multi-vendor pitch for AgustaWestland? Is the BJP conveniently running with the hare and hunting with the hounds?

5) By giving a red carpet welcome to Finmeccanica in the Aero India exhibition as part of Make In India, what message was being sent to our investigating agencies about the seriousness of the government to get to the bottom of the corruption scandal? This raises a germane concern: why was the Modi sarkar willfully delaying a thorough probe? Why was it virtually comatose for two full years? Was it trying to protect those in close proximity by behaving like an ostrich with its head buried in the sand?

6) The Italian court order has indicated/indicted SP Tyagi , former air chief marshal and some of his family members of being alleged beneficiaries of the helicopter bribes. Is it not true that Mr. Tyagi was on the advisory board of the current National Security Advisor Ajit Doval's think-tank Vivekananda Foundation, many of whose members are now part of Modi sarkar? Can a certain political/ ideological affinity and compatibility be denied? What are the larger repercussions of this apparent proximity? Why was Mr. Tyagi not investigated over the last two years?

How are we expected to overlook a serious accusation that Michel has made in an official letter... that Modi did a secret deal with Renzi to embroil the Gandhis...?

7) CAG reports have stated unequivocally that both the Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh state governments under the BJP bought AgustaWestland helicopters at exorbitant prices. Why? Why did they pay astronomical rates valued in excess of ₹67 lakh and ₹114 lakh as alleged by CAG? Evidently, these were high-level transactions of capital expenditure getting approval from the highest political executive. Does not this unambiguously establish a disquieting business relationship between the senior BJP leadership and AgustaWestland management?

8) Since the BJP has tried to make accused middleman Christian Michel appear like a paragon of unalloyed purity by giving his alleged notes ( Michel says these are fabricated) 100% credibility, then how are we expected to overlook a serious accusation that Michel has made in an official letter to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a secret deal with his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi to somehow embroil the Gandhi family in the AgustaWestland deal in exchange for freedom for the two Italian marines ?

Are the questions being raised on Modi's role on the CAG report alleging a nearly ₹20,000 crore loss on the KG Basin worrying him?

Senior diplomatic experts have questioned the Modi Sarkar's extraordinarily soft response to international arbitration favouring Italian marines; compare this to Modi's belligerence on this issue in 2013-14. And why has Modi in an election speech made serious allusions on the Italian court judgement towards the Gandhi family? Hasn't Judge Marco Maiga categorically stated that no Congress leader has been made accused as there is zero evidence of any money trail involving them? Isn't Modi playing lowbrow, calumny-imbued politics by such crude insinuations and indulging in character-assassination? Why? Are the questions being raised on Modi's role on the CAG report alleging a nearly ₹20,000 crore loss on the KG Basin worrying him? This political conspiracy can only be exposed if there is a dispassionate, impartial investigation, which leads us to point 9.

9) Why is the Modi Sarkar obdurately opposing a Supreme Court-monitored CBI investigation? What are its apprehensions? The Congress party is concerned that political vendetta is assuming dangerous proportions in India. Earlier, the BJP had opposed the Rajya Sabha motion moved by the Congress party for a joint parliamentary committee as early as February 2014. It sounds rather bizarre, if it is not altogether sleight of hand, that the accusing party is paranoid about having an independent enquiry.

Why is the Modi Sarkar obdurately opposing a Supreme Court-monitored CBI investigation? What are its apprehensions?

The Congress wants a time-bound investigation wrapped up at the earliest, with quarterly progress reports submitted to Parliament. After 730 days of doing nothing, why is the BJP running away from biting the bullet? Is it not being disingenuous?

10) It is alleged that several media personnel were on the AgustaWestland payroll. Who are they? Since this is a grave charge, when are we going to discover their true identities? Social media circles are already abuzz that a key PR character for Finmeccanica was closely related to a senior BJP leader.

Wild allegations even if wholly unsubstantiated are meant to ultimately tarnish reputations. The BJP is a past-master at "keeping the pot boiling". Modi champions the brigade that hard-sells tirades and mindless accusations with impeccable regularity. But in the case of AgustaWestland, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. If a fair probe is effectuated, it will be boomerang on the BJP.

The author is National Spokesperson of the Indian National Congress party. The views are his own.

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