Former National Security Advisor (NSA) M K Narayanan on Wednesday said he played no role in the controversial Rs 3,600 crore VVIP AgustaWestland chopper deal and there was no talk of kickbacks till he left the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in 2010.
Narayanan endorsed the decision of former NSA Brajesh Mishra in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that there should not be a single vendor for the deal which, he said, the UPA government implemented in “letter and spirit”.
Responding to a query on him being allegedly named a “key advisor” to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Narayanan said the issue was something that is “neither here nor there” and that it was a revelation to him.
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“I came to know on Wednesday, as a matter of fact, that I was a key advisor to Ms Gandhi,” Narayanan told NDTV.
“I really cannot speak beyond what I know. From my point of view, the issue was whether we were going to get a new set of helicopters. The previous government, that is when the NDA was there and Brajesh Mishra was the NSA, had taken a decision that we must avoid single vendor system.
“Soon after I took over and the matter came up again, we adhered almost to the letter and spirit of that statement. Whom do you select, how do you select, (such) questions do not come under the purview of the NSA’s office or the PMO,” he said.
Asked whether he was aware of alleged kickbacks and bribes involved in the deal, Narayanan said he left office in 2010 after being appointed Governor of West Bengal.
“At that time, there was no talk of anything in this regard and then I was in Bengal and saw what all was coming in the newspapers,” he said.
Refusing to respond to charges made by BJP against him, Narayanan said, “Don’t get me involved in conflict between govt A or govt B” and repeated that the UPA reiterated Mishra’s decision.
“I think the decision taken by Mishra at that time, that we should get another vendor, which we reiterated, was the right one. Now whether that vendor should be AgustaWestland or somebody else was not part of our brief,” he said.
He emphatically denied suggestions that anyone from Agusta approached him, saying, “In any case why should they approach anybody after the decision has been taken?”
“I can understand if there was some decision before that. So as far as we were concerned, it was nothing to do with AgustaWestland. The question is we had a single vendor. We were not prepared for it. We wanted two vendors,” he said.
On the issue of alleged communication between the offices of the Italian Prime Minister and that of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Narayanan said nothing of that sort happened.
“If the Italian PM has spoken to PM, normally I would have been told or PMO would have been in the picture. I never heard about this. It seems most unlikely. In any case, Manmohan Singh was not the type of person who accepted calls in matters regarding private industry,” he said.
BJP on Wednesday sought to drag Sonia Gandhi into the controversial deal with its newly-nominated MP Subramanian Swamy taking her name in the Rajya Sabha.
Hitting back, Gandhi rejected the allegations against her and party leaders as “false and baseless” and termed them as an attempt at “character assassination”. She asserted she was “not afraid” of being “cornered” on the issue.