Flogging two dead horses to life

The curious case of AgustaWestland began in 2007, when the UPA government placed an order for 12 luxury helicopters for use by VVIPs.

It wouldn’t take much intuition to understand that AgustaWestland is tit for tat for Rafale. As one reaches the boiling point, the other begins to melt. With Rahul Gandhi queering the pitch for the Modi government with his own estimate of the size of the Rafale scam, which he made in two installments, at Rs1 lakh crore, it is understandable that the government would keep resurrecting the Agusta ghost, which had been haunting the Congress party as Sonia Gandhi and her aides were supposed to be leading dramatis personae.

The curious case of AgustaWestland began in 2007, when the UPA government placed an order for 12 luxury helicopters for use by VVIPs. In 2013 the deal was scrapped by the UPA government itself as Agusta’s parent company Finmecaanica was in the dock in Italy for giving bribes to secure the Indian deal. Apart from cancelling the deal, the government successfully pursued confiscation of company assets worth Rs 2,000 crore, which had been paid for the initial order for three aircrafts. It also instituted a CBI inquiry into the deal.

Meanwhile, some hand-written notes which the Italian prosecution submitted to the courts there had mention about the “family’ and ‘AP’, which the BJP, by then in power, interpreted to mean the Gandhi family and Ahmed Patel respectively. And a key middleman in the deal was said to be Christian Michel, who is now a central figure in the case.

There is no doubt that Michel, who is cited by both sides as substantiating their respective claims, is a dubious character. And this serves the purpose of both sides. In 2015, NDA claimed that Michel had offered to cooperate with investigators in return for immunity from prosecution, but the government rejected the suggestion as he was an accused.

Now the double dealer claims that the NDA government had specifically asked him to implicate Sonia Gandhi. He had made a similar claim two years ago, purportedly writing to PM Modi that he had no role in organising the bribes. Further complicating the muddle, former Air Force chief SP Tyagi, known to have been close to certain saffron outfits, and a few of his close relatives now stand indicted in the case.

Rahul Gandhi had made a big show of his Rafale charge during his onslaught on Modi during the debate on the no- confidence motion, where he alleged that the PM had gone out of his way to help Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence to secure a lucrative deal with Dassault Aviation under the offset programme as part of the Rafale deal. With the run-up to the elections having already begun, both AgustaWestland and Rafale deals are invaluable assets for the two parties. So, one can expect lot more dramas in the days to come.

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