New Delhi: The UPA government went into damage control on Thursday over the AgustaWestland chopper deal, issuing a detailed factsheet on the AgustaWestland deal, putting the blame on the NDA. The Congress has alleged that in 2003, the then National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra wrote to the then defence secretary that the existing rules were unfair as it allowed only single bidding and that the qualifying height of the choppers should be reduced from 18,000 feet to at least 14,000 feet.
The factsheet says in the initial tender, only Eurocopter was found eligible. In 2003, Brajesh Mishra met the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, urging him to change the norms to include more bidders. Altitude requirements were brought down from 6,000 to 4,500 metres after that meeting.
Later Brajesh Mishra wrote to the Air Chief Marshal suggesting consultations with the defence secretary. After the UPA came to power, the factsheet says IAF, SPG, NSA and Defence Ministry held consultations and changes in requirements were incorporated.
After the new tender, three companies responded, out of which AgustaWestland was selected. The Cabinet Committee on Security cleared the deal on January 18, 2010.
Surprisingly BJP leader Jaswant Singh, a member of the then Vajpayee cabinet, seemed to be endorse Brajesh Mishra's act. But an alarmed BJP, which wants to take on the Congress in the Budget Session was quick to distance itself from Jaswant Singh's comments.
Even as the Congress dragged Brajesh Mishra into the raging controversy, it remained silent on many questions it faces.
- The issue came up first a year ago. Why did Defence Minister AK Antony take so long to order a probe?
- Why did Antony's statement in Parliament make false assurances?
- The SPG specified requirements were fulfilled by many other firms. Why was AgustaWestland chosen when it was costlier?
If the UPA was gung ho after the Afzal Guru hanging, hoping to counter the uproar over Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde's Hindu terror remark, this latest chopper controversy is bound to ground the Congress's dream of having an edge over the BJP.