Paris/New Delhi: In France, on a three-day visit, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has refuted Congress allegations that she has gone on a cover-up operation and insisted that the government had no part in the selection of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as a joint venture partner in the Rafale deal.
It was the choice of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), in this case Dassault, whom they wanted as their offset partner, she said. “It is a government to government agreement between France and India and there is no name mentioned and this offset obligation maybe mandatory, but the names of the company are not mandatory for me,” the minister told NDTV in Paris.
‘‘As for the visit to Dassault, it is an invitation; and since I’m a buyer, so I would definitely go and see what is on offer,” added Sitharaman, who is expected to visit the Dassault unit where Rafale fighter jets are being manufactured for India. Congress president Rahul Gandhi had earlier wondered what emergency made the Defence Minister rush to France and go to the Dassault factory. He said the purpose is clear: Pressurise Dassault for the cover-up. “Dassault is sitting on a huge contract and it will say what the Government of India wants it to say. However, the truth is coming out one by one.”
The political offensive came a day after some reports cited an internal document of Dassault Aviation as saying that it was mandatory for manufacturer of Rafale to choose Ambani’s firm, Reliance Defence, as its offset partner. The report triggered a fresh round of charges and counter-charges between the Congress and the BJP with Rahul Gandhi alleging Prime Minister Narendra Modi was “corrupt” and demanding a probe into his role in the jet procurement.
Strongly countering Gandhi’s charges, the BJP accused the Congress chief of “lying through his teeth shamelessly” and indulging in “politics of misinformation” to build his political career. Calling him a “clown prince”, the BJP alleged that the Congress president belonged to a “family of middlemen” and that his father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, was “officially a middleman” in a defence deal. In a statement, Dassault Aviation said it has “freely chosen to enter a partnership with Reliance Group, as it rejected the report of French publication Mediapart. That did not prevent the Congress chief from reiterating his charge that Modi is Ambani’s “chowkidaar’, and not that of the country.