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Choppergate: How much did A K Antony know?

The Air Staff Qualitative Requirement (ASQR) was changed to include AgustaWestland luxury choppers in the race for transportation of VVIPs in the Indian government.

In end-October, 2006, Pranab Mukherjee stepped down as defence minister and took charge of the external affairs ministry.

Arakkaparambil Kurien Antony (AK Antony) was made the defence minister on the same day that Mukherjee resigned.

Official sources say from that day, for the next three months, Antony took briefings about the ministry for three months. Virtually everything that he needed to know as the defence minister, he was told. The story of the VVIP choppers and its progression through the processes of the MOD was explained to him in his chamber on the first floor office of the southern wing of South Block in New Delhi.

The question is: Was he told about the change in the ASQR under of the VVIP helicopter deal under ‘Pranab Mukherjee’s watch’? The answer to that question appears to be ‘yes’. This is what was revealed to Millennium Post Friday by a senior officer of the Indian Air Force (IAF) who has recently retired.

So what did he do with that knowledge? Apparently, he did nothing. That is what has become evident this time when he handed over the investigation of the case to the CBI after potentially explosive revelations were revealed to the Italian media by the prosecutors in Italy.

Antony has stated only three days ago in an interaction with the media, in hindsight, that no one will be spared for this case of loss of probity, if found guilty. But the question remains: how high will he go?

On a separate point, opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sought refuge in their old trick of asking questions to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) about the deal. But it remains on record that the National Security Advisor (NSA) and principal secretary to the prime minister of the NDA regime, had recommended the change in the qualitative requirements of the VVIP choppers in 2003.

This he sought, ostensibly under pressure from the Special Protection Group that protected then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his immediate family which included his foster son-in-law, Ranjan Bhattacharya.

Clearly, the subversion of the system of defence procurements ran deep.

A sting operation by a magazine had caught tribal BJP leader Bangaru Laxman on video taking bribes. That was only the tip of the ice berg, for soon after taking over as the defence minister, Mukherjee had left instructions that there would not be any ‘witch-hunt’.
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