New Delhi: As BJP raked up the issue of kickbacks in the VVIP chopper deal in a big way, its senior leader Jaswant Singh on Thursday came out in defence of former Air chief SP Tyagi and said allegations should not be made against each other till the truth is known.
The former defence minister in the NDA government also admitted that parameters for purchase of these helicopters were changed on the directions of the then National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra but defended the decision, saying it was done to avoid a single-vendor situation.
Singh said the guilty in the issue is an Italian company and people "have forgotten them".
He favoured expeditious and thorough probe into the allegations of payment of kickbacks in the Rs 3,600 crore deal.
"We should not make wild allegations against a former Air Force chief. It is not in the interest of both the Air Force and the country. The probe is on. As Mr Tyagi himself is saying, the probe should be held early. Why don`t you agree to his suggestion," Singh told reporters.
Supporting Tyagi, who has been accused of taking bribes in the deal through his cousins, Singh said one should be careful while alleging "guilt through association".
"Don`t start judging people simply because of association or simply because the former Air Chief Marshal Tyagi has cousins who are also known as Tyagis," he said.
The former defence and external affairs minister cited his own example in this regard, saying, "One of my own cousins, first cousin, he was known as a smuggler. Does that make me a smuggler? If another relative of mine commits a crime, does that make me a criminal?"
Singh said, "We should not make allegations against each other" till the truth is known.
Asked about Singh`s remarks, party spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman said, "Tyagi definitely has a lot of answers. He can`t escape answering these questions. If there are others involved in the scam, they also have to be questioned."
Singh`s comments assume significance in the context of high-decibel attack launched by his party against the government, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi over the scam.
"I am pained that the guilty here is the Italian company. It seems that we have forgotten them," Singh said.
Singh, who was the defence minister in 2001, admitted that the tender specifications were changed during NDA rule.
"Yes, what he has said is true," Singh said when asked to comment on remarks by Tyagi that the specifications in the tender were changed in 2003 during the NDA rule when George Fernandes was the defence minister.
Italian prosecutors have contended that the specifications were altered to make AgustaWestland`s helicopters eligible in the contract for the 12 VVIP helicopter deal. Among the changes made were the reduction in the altitude from 19,000 ft to 15,000 ft.
"I don`t see why there is so much of excitement about changing the parameters. There was a plausible and good reason for the change that was to be brought about.”
"The original proposal for the VVIP helicopter emerged in the year 2000 and one of the criterion in that was that the helicopter for VIP movement ought to be able to go up to 18,000 feet.”
"When this came to the Prime Minister`s office and it came back to the Cabinet Committee on Security, then it was found that to have a single vendor proposal would be improper."
Supporting the decision of Brajesh Mishra in getting the parameters changed, Singh said, "I think that the then National Security Advisor "appropriately and rightly said we much avoid the single vendor situation".
He said he was disappointed with the UPA government`s response in the matter. "When it first appeared in 2011 and the Parliament was also seized of it, the government has denied the very existence of such a situation. It is very disappointing."
He said, "For about 10 months all that the government did, between the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of External Affairs, also sent rather polite notes to the Italian government, who in any event are the Gold medal winners for corruption."
Singh said, "Should it require much more than just a polite letter saying please give us the facts. We need much stronger diplomatic action.”
"If that was the provision, then immediately the Ministry of Defence ought to have stayed any further payments at least because it is a very fine balancing act that we have to achieve."
The former defence minister said the defence preparedness of the country should not be damaged by delays in the decision-making.
"But we equally must not let damage to decision-making by such programmes being riddled with corruption. So I find the government response as tardy, unsatisfactory and certainly not answering the need of the hour," he said.