PM referred to Mrs Gandhi’s Italian origins

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent comments on opposition leader Sonia Gandhi have been fiercely objected to by her party, the Congress, which says its lawmakers will protest in Parliament today.

“The Prime Minister is entitled to speak on corruption both inside and outside the House and he cannot be gagged”, responded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.

While addressing an election rally in Tamil Nadu, the PM referred to Mrs Gandhi’s Italian origins – always a red flag for her party- and stated that a court in Italy has found that bribes were paid in a helicopter deal struck by the Congress when it was in power. “I don’t have any family in Italy…I have never been there,” the PM said, as evidence that his government did not influence the investigation abroad, and that an objective inquiry has determined kickbacks were paid to politicians and bureaucrats in India by executives and middlemen for AgustaWestland, an Anglo-Italian firm.

Mrs Gandhi delivered an unblinking response at a campaign meeting in Kerala yesterday, declaring, “I am not ashamed of my family in Italy”. She also said despite the PM’s best efforts, her Indian-ness cannot be questioned. “I will die in India…my ashes will be immersed here,” she said.

The Congress says it must be allowed to move breach of Privilege Motion in Parliament against the Prime Minister for publicly distorting the facts of the Agusta investigation, and making statements that question the integrity of Mrs Gandhi, who is a member of the Lok Sabha.

Congress lawmakers have pledged to sit in the well of the House, an off-limits zone around where the Speaker sits.

“Since when has an election speech by one politician against another
outside the House started to be construed as breach of privilege?” asked Mr Jaitley.

The Agusta order for 12 helicopters for use by VVIPs including the Prime Minister was signed by India in 2010 and cancelled in 2014 after Italy arrested top executives of the defense manufacturer. A CBI inquiry was ordered to uncover who was paid off in India, but the government alleges that the Congress, which was then in power, stalled and blocked the investigation from making progress.