New Delhi: Congress president Rahul Gandhi has put the Rafale fighter aircraft deal on the national radar. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, though a Rajya Sabha member, was present in the Lok Sabha when Rahul pointed out that the UPA government was to get the Rafale fighter aircraft at Rs 520 crore a piece, but with PM Modi negotiated a price of Rs 1600 crore per aircraft, thereby benefiting a businessman friend to the extent of Rs 45,000 crore.
Why was the original deal to manufacture the aircraft in the defence ministry’s public sector unit of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited passed on to a private company having a debt of Rs 35,000 crore, Rahul demanded and said the PM owes it to the nation to explain this, adding that “he can’t look into my eyes.’’
The defence minister was up in arms and the BJP members created a din when Rahul accused her of telling a lie under pressure from the prime minister and stating that she can’t give out details of the deal because of the secrecy pact with France. Rahul told the House that he too had spoken to the French President who had denied that there was any such secret clause in the deal. President Macron also told him that he had no objection to the entire country knowing about the deal.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman wanted to speak immediately, but Rahul did not yield and so she had her turn after he finished. She sought to table a document signed by then defence minister A K Antony of the Congress way back on 21st January 2008 on protection of classified information. She also quoted the French President’s interview by an Indian media house that the commercial details of the deal cannot be made public.
The House witnessed 15 minutes of tussle, but the Speaker stood was adamant that the defence minister had clarified and she won’t allow further accusations. The Speaker also indirectly admonished Rahul for citing a private conversation with the French President who was not in the House to vouch for it. The CAG is already examining the Rafale fighter jet deal worth Rs 58,000 crore. India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale jets. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019.