‘Battle of Agusta’ intensifies between BJP, Congress

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New Delhi, Dec 31 : The political slugfest over the VVIP chopper deal case on Monday intensified with BJP chief Amit Shah accusing the Gandhi family of having “deep friendship” with arrested AgustaWestland middleman Christian Michel, while the Congress accused the Narendra Modi government of misusing central agencies to pursue its “vendetta politics”.

The last day of the year witnessed the Centre’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launching a frontal attack on UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi after the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is probing the multi-crore rupees AgustaWestland choppers deal case, told a special court that Michel referred to one “Mrs Gandhi” and “big man ‘R'”, perceived as being Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. 

Taking to Twitter, Shah alleged that “the friendship between Michel and one family in India is time-tested and deep”.

“Does anyone know why Christian Michel passed on the details of questioning on Mrs Gandhi to his lawyer? Did he want them to be passed on to Mrs Gandhi herself? Why?” asked Shah.

The BJP President demanded Michel’s lawyer Aljo Joseph — a former Youth Congress leader — to “reveal about the existence of documents of 2008, which make a reference to Mrs Gandhi”. 

Shah called Joseph a “conduit between Michel and Mrs Gandhi” and said his expulsion by the Congress was a “sham”.

“Michel’s lawyer has admitted that the paper was indeed passed on to him. He thought that it was a list of medicines, which could have been transparently given in any case,” said Shah and took a swipe at the Gandhi family saying people have heard of the Zandu Balm and Tiger Balm — medicines used to relieve pain — but what is this “family balm”.

Countering the Congress’ onslaught on the Modi government over alleged irregularities in the Rafale fights jets deal, the BJP also fielded its Chief Ministers to launch a multi-pronged attack. 

If Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis demanded the Congress and the Gandhi family to reply to the corruption charges made against them, his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath sought to know “Who is this Mrs Gandhi that Michel is talking about”.

“The Congress has benefited from Michel, which has been brought forth by the ED. The Congress and the Gandhi family must clarify,” said Fadnavis wondering why the name of “only one family” keeps recurring in all defence deals involving corruption charges.

Retaliating to the BJP’s charges, former Defence Minister and Congress veteran A.K. Antony accused the Modi government and the BJP of “manufacturing lies” to malign the Gandhi family and asserted that neither Sonia nor Rahul ever interfered in any defence deals.

“Lies, lies and lies… the Modi government and the BJP are trying to manufacture something out of nothing, they are misusing the agencies to manufacture lies. I want to say categorically that Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi never interfered in defence deals,” Antony told the media here. 

“Without any iota of truth, they are pursuing a politics of vendetta. At no point either Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi interfered in my functioning as the Defence Minister,” said Antony who was at the helm of the Defence Ministry from 2006 to 2014.

Antony also attacked the Modi government for “favouring” the AgustaWestland, which was blacklisted by the earlier Congress-led UPA government.

“As soon as we came to know about corruption in the deal, we ordered a CBI inquiry. We fought against Agusta in Italy courts and blacklisted the company. 

“But after we left, the present government has done nothing against Agusta. Instead, they are favouring the company by making them a partner in ‘Make in India’. Instead of following up on the action by the UPA and punishing Agusta, the present government is favouring them,” alleged Antony. 

Following Michel’s extradition from the the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, the BJP has been on the offensive against the Congress and the Gandhi family with Prime Minister Modi himself alleging that the British national has taken Sonia Gandhi’s name and will “spill the beans” about the deal.