The BJP today hit hard at the Congress-led UPA government over the Italian chopper deal now under a cloud, asking why it had not initiated an inquiry in the last one year that the deal was being investigated in Italy. The party's Ravi Shankar Prasad said the BJP held the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi accountable and would question them in Parliament.
Ten days before the Budget session of Parliament begins, the BJP, handed a new controversy to attack the government with, has termed the chopper deal as the "second Bofors scam". Mr Prasad said, "There was one gentleman Ottavio Quattrochhi from Italy who was involved in the Bofors scam. Several attempts were made to protect him. This helicopter company is also from Italy. Was this a factor in no probe being done in the matter for the past one year?" The Bofors case dates back to the 1980s when there were allegations of kickbacks in a deal for artillery guns during the Congress regime of Rajiv Gandhi.
Mr Prasad said Defence Minister AK Antony must also explain why he had not ensured that the Italian government keep India informed about its own investigations into the deal, on for months now. "Mr Antony said there was no information. Did he write to the Italian Defence Minister asking for it? Did the government summon the Italian Ambassador for quick information? Was any senior official sent to Italy to seek information?" Mr Prasad asked. (Foreign media on VVIP chopper controversy)
The government is on the backfoot after the CEO of the Italian defence giant Finmeccanica was arrested for allegedly offering bribes in India to land a contract for the sale of 12 AgustaWestland helicopters. Mr Antony has promised that if a CBI inquiry ordered into the deal turns up any evidence of malpractice, the contract will be cancelled and the Italian firm blacklisted. But the government is also firm that it will only act as per the law. (Can get money back at any stage: Defence Minister on VVIP chopper deal)
"Whatever has to be done by law should be done and I don't think that we should do anything that is done to please the Opposition or because somebody puts pressure on us," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said, and also reminded the BJP that most of the allegations in the Bofors case were rejected by the Supreme Court. "Provide me with the final conclusions of the Bofors case and then I would say you are right" he said.
The BJP has raised the issue of corruption and scams against the UPA government over several sessions of Parliament. But its attack was considerably blunted in recent months by corruption charges piling up against its own president Nitin Gadkari. Mr Gadkari was forced to opt out of an unprecedented second term as party chief by an income tax investigation into his businesses and Rajnath Singh was appointed the BJP chief last month.
Mr Singh has made clear that corruption will remain a key election agenda of the BJP as it prepares for general elections in 2014.