NEW DELHI: Angry exchanges between opposition Congress and ruling BJP members over Subramaniam Swamy seeking to drag Sonia Gandhi's name in the controversial AgustaWestland helicopter contract bribery case led to two adjournments of the Rajya Sabha in the pre-noon session.
However, Gandhi's name was later expunged by Deputy Chairman P J Kurien. Swamy had raised the issue through a zero hour notice, his first intervention since he took oath in the House yesterday, and referred to the allegations made by Christian Micheal, the middleman in the scandal, through a letter in the High Court of Italy.
The naming of Gandhi led the Congress members to angrily storm into the Well, with a handful even moving closer to the treasury benches menacingly. Members of the treasury benches too got up on their seats to counter the opposition. Fearing an ugly showdown, a couple of marshalls too stepped into the Well to act as a wall between the opposition and the ruling side.
Before things got out of hand, Deputy Chairman P J Kurien adjourned the House for 10 minutes. When the House reassembled, Kurien expunged Swamy's reference to Gandhi saying he should not name a member who cannot come and defend himself or herself.
"I am not admonishing you as this is your first speech in the House" after being nominated to the Upper House. "But the name is expunged," Kurien said. This did not satisfy the Congress members who were in the Well again shouting slogans against Swamy.
Kurien said though it was Swamy's first day today after being nominated to the Rajya Sabha, "you have been member of this House before and you should know that the name of a member of the other House cannot be taken here". As Congress members continued to raise slogans from the Well, the Deputy Chairman again adjourned the House till noon. During the 10 minute break, Swamy was surrounded by BJP members, seemingly complimenting him for provoking an angry reaction from Congress.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar walked up to him and was seen exchanging notes with Swamy. HRD Minister Smriti Irani too walked up and complimented him. Few Congress leaders including Anand Sharma and Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley walked into the Chairman's chamber during the break.
Just before the House reassembled, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi took Swamy aside, apparently to give him some advice. After the second adjournment, Jaitley took Swamy with him for a chat on the issue. Earlier Jaitley, while responding to Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad's question, said the reports about a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Italian counterpart were "false and untrue in entirety."
"No such meeting at all has been held," he said debunking a media report of Modi offering to free Italian marines in exchange of information on Gandhi family. He said the principal issue was that there were allegation of bribe being paid to secure the defence deal. "The bribe giver has been convicted and now bribe taker has to be identified," he said adding written admission by the alleged middle man has to be examined. "Investigation is underway," he said.
Earlier, Azad quoted media reports to ask the government if the Prime Minister had during a meeting with his Italian counterpart in September last year offered to free two Italian marines in exchange of information on Gandhi family in the controversial chopper deal. "Pronouncement of judgment (on the chopper deal) has come and now NDA government is now allowing Italian marines to return home. So the deal is struck," he said.
Azad said the Congress-led UPA government had in 2013 cancelled the deal when wrong-doings were reported and had directed the CBI and ED to investigate corruption charges.
Also, the then Government had encashed bank guarantee and got back advance money paid. Besides, three helicopters received as part of the deal were not returned, he said.
The VVIP chopper deal relates to a 2010 decision of the UPA government to buy 12 helicopters from Italian manufacturer, Finmeccanica. But reports later said the Italian company had paid a bribe of up to Rs 3,565 crore to swing the deal.
Though the Italian company was blacklisted by UPA, it was part of Modi government's 'Make in India' drive, the Congress leader alleged.