AgustaWestland: Parrikar sticks to facts but uses 'invisible hand' to slap Congress

In the end, protests based on technicalities by Congress benches mattered little to Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar when he rose to give a ministerial response on Agusta Westland VVIP chopper scam in Parliament. All the facts and figures that Parrikar mentioned in his hour-long speech — quoting from various reports in a chronological order about the deal — were all pointed in one direction, that the Congress-led UPA had flouted all established norms to favour one company: AgustaWestland.

Manohar Parrikar. File photo. PTI

Manohar Parrikar. File photo. PTI

Parrikar did not name Sonia Gandhi or point fingers at any other Congress leader, but innuendos like 'invisible hand' made that political point. Parrikar's response was more factual in nature than political. He gave out all the dates and described how things unfolded during the UPA regime and left the viewers or the Aam Aadmi at large to make their own conclusions.

The BJP leadership, however has made one strategic mistake throughout the AgustaWestland debate — two main speakers from its side, Subramanian Swamy and Manohar Parrikar spoke in English, something which the Aam Aadmi on the streets don't understand, howsoever keenly he/she may have wanted to watch this debate live. This debate is perhaps the most hyped one after the one on JNU and Rohit Vemula case in the Parliament this year. Parrikar could perhaps take a lesson or two from his other colleagues on that count. For some reasons the Defence Minister was wary of taking Sonia Gandhi and other senior Congress leaders' names or maybe it was a part of their strategy since an adverse public perception has already been created against the Congress first family.

It was heartening to see a debate of this nature, where a full five hour session concluded without unruly scenes; heated exchanges, of course, did ensue and at times Parrikar was barely audible — an accepted part of Parliamentary practices.

By focussing on the facts, the Defence Minister raised some pertinent questions.

Why were the terms of reference for acquiring choppers to be used by the VVIPs changed?

From an initial acquisition of 8 choppers, why did the number increase to 12?

Why was there a six-fold increase in the cost price of these choppers?

Who got the Defence Minister's decision to have a mandatory field trial and the bench price of $100 million per chopper unit overruled?

What were the compulsions under which field trial on a foreign soil was accepted that too when the chopper AW101 was not used in field trial, instead some other representative chopper was used?

Why were the requirements of the internationally accepted cabin height of 1.43 meters changed to 1.80 meters? Was it allowed to make AgustaWestland the only suitable bidder, thus eliminating EC225 which had earlier met all other requirements except the 1.60 meter cabin height requirement that was made mandatory?

Who forced the entire top governmental machinery to dilute one requirement after another only to suit one company, AgustaWestland, which in the first place was a customer relationship company and not a manufacturer of the helicopter was even entitled for bid?

Parrikar's argument was that the UPA government made conditions in a bid to deliberately create a single vendor situation, where no company other than AgustaWestland could be selected for purchase for VVIP choppers.  The Air Force had strongly noted that the field trials must be held in India only and in actual geographical locations because topography and other related things make a great deal of difference in flying performances. That was overruled. Parrikar named the company which acted as a conduit in India to disburse money to the bribe takers. He however, did detail as to what stage investigations were at to nab the scamsters.

The debate provoked Congress and got the likes of AK Antony and Ahmed Patel who otherwise rarely participate in a debate, to speak up on Wednesday.

The Congress' principal objection to Parrikar's speech was not on facts but about why he was reading his speech from a prepared text.

It would be interesting to see how the debate proceeds in Lok Sabha where Sonia Gandhi is a member and therefore the norm, don't name a person and level a charge against him or her who is not a member in that House and thus not in a position to defend him or her, does not apply in Lower House. Will Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi speak in Lok Sabha as Ahmed Patel spoke in Upper House to clear his and his leader's position on the issue? That's a question which can only be answered by Friday.

Updated Date: May 04, 2016 23:11 PM

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