New Delhi: The war of words over the Rafale deal intensified on Wednesday, with the Opposition led by Rahul Gandhi alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had “changed” the contract and pressing for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe, which was rejected by the government which called the Congress president a “liar”.
The issue generated much heat in the Lok Sabha which took up a debate on it. The House witnessed repeated uproar and disruptions as charges and counter-charges flew. Even papers and paper planes were thrown by some members.
During the debate, most of the Opposition parties pressed for a JPC probe and even the BJP ally Shiv Sena questioned transparency in the deal.
Initiating the debate, Gandhi said, “Jab humne yeh mudda pehli baar uthaya, humko laga daal mein kuch kaala hai…. Do saal baad pata chala, puri daal hi kaali hai (When we raised the issue initially, it seemed that there was something wrong in the deal but after two years, it looks like everything is wrong).”
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while responding on behalf of the government, hit out at Gandhi, saying he was “manufacturing” and “inventing” corruption in a clean deal and indulging in “lies” for electoral gains.
Taking a dig at Gandhi, Jaitley said that it was regrettable that the “grand old party” Congress, which ruled the country for 60 years, was being headed by a person who “does not understand what a fighter aircraft is.”
He said so much of “lack of understanding” was not expected from the Congress party leaders.
Gandhi, while insisting on a JPC probe, alleged that the contract for Rafale deal was “changed” by the Prime Minister to benefit an industrialist “friend of his”. He was barred by the Speaker from naming the industrialist.
He said the BJP should not to fear the JPC as things will be clear after that.
“It will be clear Modiji nay double ‘A’ ke jeb mein paise dale, pooray procedure to bypass kiya, HAL ke worker se chheen kar France ke worker ko diya gaya (It will be clear Modiji filed AA’s pockets, bypassed the entire procedure, took away employment from HAL workers and gave to French). Let the truth come before the people,” Gandhi added.
Later in the day, the Congress president addressed a press conference and the Prime Minister should respond to his questions with “credibility” instead of fielding the Finance Minister to speak on the issue. He said he would like to have a one-on-one debate with the Prime minister on this issue, even for about 20 minutes.
“But he (PM) doesn’t have the guts. I have come here before you and you can ask any questions which I will answer,” he said at the press conference and added that the Prime Minister does not face the media.
The Congress president questioned whether it was not a fact that the price of each Rafale aircraft to be procured from French company Dassault was changed from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1,600 crore.
In the Lok Sabha, Jaitley rejected the demand for JPC, saying there was nothing left to look into after the Supreme Court expressed satisfaction over all aspects related to the deal.
To hit back at Gandhi for demanding JPC, he said a JPC formed to probe the Bofors gun deal and headed by Congress leader B Shankaranand had “whitewashed all corruption charges” by producing a “fraud” report.
“Since you know your hands are soaked in corruption, you are levelling charges against a clean government. So let us not invent allegations,” the Minister said.
Jaitley maintained that the deal finalised by the NDA government would fetch India each Rafale plane 9 per cent cheaper than what was proposed under the previous UPA government.
He said Gandhi is unable to understand mathematics of Rs 526 crore and Rs 1600 crore or even the offsets that form part of the agreement.
“The Supreme Court has satisfied its conscience but Congress’ electoral requirement has not been met,” he said, adding that is why the Opposition party keeps on raking up the matter.
Gandhi tried to clear the air on the Supreme Court order in the Rafale deal case, saying the top court verdict stated that probing it does not come under its jurisdiction, but the Court never said that JPC should not be formed.
Gandhi asked whether the change of price was not objected to by officials of the Defence Ministry.
The Congress President, who wanted to play some audio tape but was prevented by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan, claimed that former Defence Minister and now Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had said that a file related to Rafale pricing was at his home.
Asking the Prime Minister to respond, the Congress leader said the “entire country was pointing fingers at him”.
“Narendra Modi ji, on whom the nation reposed faith, put money in the pocket of his friend ‘double AA’,” Gandhi alleged.
Jaitley said, “Last time the MP (Rahul Gandhi) spoke on the Rafale jets, he lied before the nation by concocting a conversation between him and the French President. Today, he repeats the same. Today, he tried to produce a tape but he is too scared to authenticate it.”
The minister called Gandhi and Congress a “conspirator” in “scams” like Bofors, AgustaWestland and National Herald and he understands “only paisa” without caring for the national security.
He even made a reference to Ottavio Quattrocchi, an alleged middleman in the Bofors gun deal, by asking Gandhi whether he, as a child, used play in the “lap of Mr ‘Q’ about whom the CEO of Bofors gun company had said that he should be protected at all costs and subsequently a bank account of Mr ‘Q’ was discovered.
He went on to add, “Today, the conspirator has the audacity to raise a finger against us?”
Gandhi, after being stopped from playing an audio clip, threatened to read the transcript of the tapes when the House was adjourned for a few minutes following intense protest from treasury benches.
“The biggest defence deal happened in France. (Narendra) Modiji got it done… In this tape Goa CM and ex Defence Minister in a cabinet meeting said that `I have Rafale files in my house’ and the entire truth about it has been authenticated by a cabinet minister of Government of Goa,” the Congress President said.
“Who changed the requirement of the Air Force from 126 to 36? Why is it that not a single aircraft has landed in India to date? Why did the price go from Rs 526 crore to Rs 1600 crore,” Gandhi said.
“There are three pillars of Rafale deal. First pillar is process, second is pricing and the third and most interesting is patronage. Senior officers of the IAF chose Rafale after long negotiations, IAF wanted 126 aircraft, why was the demand changed to 36?…Prime Minister in an interview said that no one is accusing him personally on Rafale. Entire nation is asking a direct question to the PM,” Rahul said.