Sonia ‘Signora' Gandhi is directly in the line of the BJP’s fire this time and you can expect her to dominate the headlines in the coming days.
Of course, there’s no proof of wrong-doing against her in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal — at least not as yet — but the fact that she finds mention in the Italian court’s order as the ‘driving force’ behind the chopper deal is good enough for the BJP to launch a fierce attack against her. In this season of no-holds-barred adversarial politics, even half a chance to nail a rival cannot be allowed to go waste; if it’s the Congress chief, then the sense of urgency becomes more explicit.
Thus, the ruling party’s effort to cash in on the court’s order comes as no surprise.
The Congress might claim that it responded swiftly when the controversy erupted in 2013 over the deal signed in 2010. True, it cancelled the deal immediately and confiscated the guarantee money besides blacklisting AgustaWestland and initiating CBI and ED probes. It also moved the judicial authorities in Italy for assistance in the case. However, now that the former chief of Finmeccanica — of which AgustaWestland is a subsidiary — has been convicted and the annexures to the judgment mention leaders believed to be close to the Congress president, the party has to do much more than putting up a staid, routine defence.
Why should bribe-takers go scot free when bribe-givers are convicted?
This is a valid question from the BJP. The Congress will need to come up with a convincing answer to that. It is possible as in most big-ticket scams involving political biggies, that there won’t be any smoking guns — evidence directly pointing to involvement of leaders. In this case too, there will be lengthy legal battles before there is any conclusion to the case, but in times when politics is all about winning the perception game, it is critical that the party produces a strong rebuttal for public consumption.
The centrality of Sonia to the survival of the Congress need not be overstated.
As the sole rallying point of the faction-ridden outfit — Rahul Gandhi is yet to prove himself — it’s critical for the party than her moral authority remains beyond question. The party has been on a political downhill journey under her in the last few years but lost political ground is less difficult to regain than the lost moral high ground of the leader. The effect would be devastating on the party rank and file. This is the reason the Congress has always been prickly about any attack on the Gandhi family and has rushed to its defence when it’s under attack — whether perceived or real.
The BJP, out to ensure a Congress-mukt India, clearly understands the predicament of the party.
The Congress, it believes, will collapse without the Gandhis. The best way to go about it is to take the moral sheen off them through attacks big and small. The direct attack has already come in the form of the National Herald case and now the Italian court verdict provides more fodder for its cannons. Now that the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy is in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress should expect a frontal attack on its top leadership on several issues.
Will the party win the perception battle this time around? Chances are bleak, given the state of disarray in the party’s response mechanism. It has been responding to all the allegations against it over the years, but the vigour is missing. Perhaps the BJP’s stronger media strategy has something to with it. Whatever the case, unless the Congress comes up with emphatic answers in the chopper deal matter, the damage can be long-term.