BJP Smells A Rat In JPC Probe
The Congress facing heat over several scams, acts fast in setting up the Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe into the alleged kickbacks in the AgustaWestland helicopters deal, enlisting support from the SP and the BSP
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath was at his superfast best. Even before the Rajya Sabha could vote on the motion to constitute a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) to look into the purchase of AgustaWestland Helicopters and whether any bribes were taken to influence the purchase of the copter deal, he had stood up in the House and announced the names of 7 members from the Rajya Sabha who would be members of the committee. Three vacancies were left for the BJP and the NDA, as they had decided not to accept the JPC and instead decided to walkout of the House and boycott the JPC.
It was probably a first for Parliament, where a notification with the names of the members was circulated and announced by the Parliamentary Affairs Minister before the House could vote on the motion to constitute the JPC. But for the Congress, the numbers were not a problem since the SP and the BSP supported the decision to set up a JPC along with the BJD, the CPI(M) while the AIADMK did not walk out of the House in protest but it made its position on the JPC clear.
The BJP said it would not serve any purpose and said they wanted a CBI enquiry to be monitored by the Supreme Court. The Trinamool Congress agreed with this and opposed the JPC along with the JD(U), the CPI, the TDP, the Akali Dal and the Shiv Sena.
Kamal Nath was at his vocal and angry best when he accused the BJP of having double standards. He said the BJP does not allow the Lok Sabha to run for a full session demanding a JPC even though there was a CBI enquiry monitored by the Supreme Court on the 2G scam. The CBI had done a great deal of work and had investigated the issue of the grant of licenses in the 2G spectrum scam but the BJP had not been satisfied with this and instead had continued to demand a JPC till the government finally caved in and set up the JPC under the chairmanship of PC Chacko and now the issue of summoning former Minister A Raja is continuing to hang fire before the JPC as he wants to be called to have his say. The JPC on the 2G spectrum has still not concluded its work and has not given its report.
The BJP has alleged that with just a year to go before the next elections when the Lok Sabha would be dissolved, so where is the time for a JPC to look into the issue and it is just a way of wasting time and whitewashing the entire issue.
To circumvent this criticism, Kamal Nath in the terms of reference announced for the JPC, has said the Parliamentary Committee should give its report within three months from the date of its setting. Judging by the speed with which the entire exercise has been set in motion, a similar motion would be moved in the Lok Sabha and once it is voted on, the members of the Lok Sabha who are on the committee would be announced and the JPC is then ready to begin work. While there would be 20 MPs from the Lok Sabha, there would be 10 from the Rajya Sabha. The chairman would be appointed from amongst these MPs, with the chairmanship going to the Congress as it is the largest party and is heading the government.
It is interesting that the opposition never asked for a JPC in the chopper payoff scam since the deal saw its origins when the NDA was in power with the then National Security Advisor Brijesh Mishra having played a key role in the enterprise. Mishra has since passed away but there were other players from the NDA who are still very much there. Knowing fully well the potential to embarrass the BJP-led NDA over the chopper payoffs, the government moved quickly and insisted it wanted to give the opposition a JPC which they could use to monitor the ongoing probe by the CBI as well as bring in whatever information/investigation/ enquiry they thought fit to reach and identify those who were actually responsible for sanctioning the deal and taking the bribes.
Kamal Nath criticised the opposition for their walkout saying, “They are not walking out but running away”.
Before the walkout in the Rajya Sabha, the government, as expected, faced a barrage of questions by the BJP about the contract with AgustaWestland, which was signed in 2010. The BJP leaders said that for a year, the government ignored media and other reports that pointed to malfeasance in the agreement.
The government ordered the CBI investigation a few weeks ago after Italian investigators said that top executives of AgustaWestland and its parent company Finmecannia, had paid bribes worth nearly 350 crores to officials including former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi, who has denied any wrongdoing. The names of three Tyagi brothers who are cousins of the former Air Force chief have been named as conduits in the deal and are alleged to have played the role of middlemen. The brothers had full access to Vajpayee’s PMO as well as contacts with a number of senior BJP leaders. Along with that, their connections within the Congress are equally strong with sources saying they have access to Manmohan Singh’s PMO in the same measure.
Defence Minister AK Antony refuted charges of inaction and promised that there would be no “cover up” and that the government was determined to go to the “root of the scam”.
He also said that the government has rejected denials by AgustaWestland of kickbacks. “We do not believe the company’s reply to the government’s showcause notice,” Antony said in the Rajya Sabha. The Defence Minister said he has never protected corruption and that his track record speaks for itself. He was quick to ask the opposition to trust him saying he has always delivered what he has promised.
The opposition wanted to know why only a preliminary enquiry has been ordered and no FIR has been filed. Two days ago, the CBI registered a PB which is just the first step in finding out who took the money in the Augusta Westland chopper deal.
Tearing apart the government’s logic of the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probing into the chopper deal, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley argued that a JPC probe could not be a substitute to an impartial investigation. “It is in your jurisdiction to identify the bribe-takers. You cannot pass the buck to the UK or Italy. By waiting for 367 days from the time you first received information in 2012 about payment of bribes till you ordered a preliminary inquiry by the CBI in 2013, you have allowed bribe-takers opportunity to destroy every piece of evidence,” he said. The setting up of the JPC without the BJP would “actually be Congress Working Committee”, quipped Jaitley.
AK Antony said he was ashamed of the “scam” as a Defence Minister and assured that the government would investigate the matter and punish the culprits. “Anybody involved (in the scam) will have to face serious consequences…the government is determined to find out the truth,” said the Union Minister in Parliament.
Antony said scams taking place in the country were a matter of shame and would be dealt with seriousness. “Culprits must be punished. Tax payers’ money cannot be wasted,” he said. The Defence Minister also told in the House that the government had ordered an inquiry into the matter as soon as it came to light and that every complaint received in connection with the issue was being taken seriously.
“Six powerful foreign companies have been blacklisted by my ministry,” Antony said while speaking in the upper house. He further added that a CBI inquiry was also ordered in the case. “Names of 11 individuals and four companies have come up in the investigation,” he said.
Antony said the government followed all procedures in the case and tried hard to procure documents from the Italian authorities but they “officially refused to share any information regarding the case as per their law”.
The Defence Minister said that “strongest possible action” would be taken against the culprits once the CBI completes its investigation and files a report in the case. “Whoever is found guilty will get maximum punishment,” he said. Antony also said the government was willing to conduct a JPC probe into the “scam”.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, however, wasn’t convinced by the Defence Minister’s explanation as Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley said in the Rajya Sabha that “there was a sense of helplessness in the Defence Minister’s speech”. He also called the move to have a JPC “an exercise in futility”.
“We suspect the government does not want to know the name of the bribe taker,” he added. Jaitley accused the government of not being serious about finding the truth in the case. “The government has given culprits enough time to destroy all evidence,” he alleged.
Jaitley asked the government to explain why it had not registered an FIR in the case. “Is the government willing to have a JPC headed by an Opposition MP,” he challenged.
The alacrity with which the government acted, as opposed to the pussyfooting, the delays in decision making and the virtual panic which had set in the government, has taken even the opposition by surprise, conceded a senior BJP member. MPs of various parties who trooped out after the JPC was set up, praised the government for the quick manner in which it acted and the fact that it held up its two trump cards in the form of the SP and the BSP to trounce the BJP and make up the numbers.
Kamal Nath’s decisiveness and management style of politics appears to be paying dividends said a senior MP, particularly when it came to successfully running the budget session of Parliament and ensuring that serious government business and the passage of crucial bills has so far not been affected.
By Renu Mittal