New Delhi: The war of words between the Congress and the government over Rafale deal intensified on Wednesday as the opposition party rejected Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s contention that the government had nothing to do with the selection of partners for offset supplies and renewed its demand for a JPC probe into the matter.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to say that Jaitley’s defence has brought the focus back on the Rafale deal, which he dubbed as a “robbery”, and sought a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe. “Mr Jaitley, thanks for bringing the nation’s attention back to the ‘GREAT RAFALE ROBBERY’. How about a Joint Parliamentary Committee to sort it out? Problem is, your ‘Supreme Leader’ is protecting ‘his friend’, so this may be inconvenient. Do check and revert in 24 hours. We’re waiting,” Gandhi said on Twitter.
At the AICC briefing, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari raised the party’s demand for a JPC probe saying “if the government and prime minister have nothing to hide on this, why are they scared of a JPC probe. He also wondered if the finance minister was trying to “cover up one scandal with another scandal”, and said all questions raised by Jaitley were primarily “a smoke screen to obfuscate the issue”. “We have been constantly and consistently demanding that a Joint Parliamentary Committee should be constituted to probe in the Rafale matter. If the Government has nothing to hide, if the Finance Minister or the Prime Minister feels that everything is above board, why are they scared of facing a Joint Parliamentary probe?
“Congress party has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Probe (JPC) in the Rafale Scam. We shall continue to make the Modi Government answerable on this,” said party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said vendors have to disclose how the offset contracts would be discharged under the defence procurement policy. “For him (Jaitley) to say that offset is not part of the contract is wrong,” he said and demanded a probe alleging that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group had prior information that PSU Hindustan Aeronautics Limited would not get the offset contract.
The Congress’ reaction came after Jaitley accused the opposition party and its leader Rahul Gandhi of “peddling untruth” on the deal and seriously compromising national security. In a Facebook blog, Jaitley today refuted Congress’ allegation that the government had benefited Anil Ambani’s Reliance group, saying “Government of India has no contract whatsoever with any private industry in relation with the Rafale aircraft supplies”. He said any Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) under the offset policy of the UPA can select any number of Indian partners, both from the private sector and the public for offset supplies.
This has nothing to do with the Government of India and, therefore, any private industry having benefitted from the Government of India is a complete lie,” he said. Anil Ambani’s Reliance group, which has slapped “Cease and Desist” notices on many Congress leaders asking them not to make false and defamatory statements on the deal, had also earlier asserted that Dassault, the French firm that is to supply 36 Rafale fighter jets, choose Reliance Defence Ltd to meet its ‘offset’ or export obligation in the contract and the Defence Ministry has no role in the selection of Indian partners by foreign vendors.
The company has also rejected allegations that Reliance Defence was incorporated days before announcement of the Rafale deal. But the Congress today dismissed Jaitley’s assertions. Sharma said that under the defence procurement policy it is very clear that the vendor has to notify how the offset liability will be discharged. “You left out HAL, violated the Official Secrets Act, did not seek the mandate of CCS and conducted no price determination for reducing the aircraft purchase from 126 to 36 aircraft. So there should be a probe into this. They may deny whatever, but the truth will come out,” Sharma told reporters.
He also said that the defence procurement policy makes it clear that the offset contract has to go to a defence PSU with experience in the sector. “Only the prime minister knew that the offset contracts would not be given to HAL and he violated the oath of secrecy taken on the position he holds,” he said, adding “the Official Secrets Act says such things are not to be disclosed. How did Anil Ambani know that HAL will not get the contract and he set up his company 10 days before?”
He said under the UPA, offset was 50 per cent of the contract and HAL did not get the contract or transfer of technology. “The finance minister has not talked about it.” “When the prime minister went abroad, did he take the mandate of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) regarding cancellation of the earlier contract,” he asked. Tewari said this is a “very funny” Government where finance minister speaks on defence affairs and defence minister holds fort for finance affairs. “They have completely redefined what collective responsibility means? In Narendra Modi’s Government, collective responsibility is that no minister has responsibility of his own ministry,” he said, taking a swipe at the government. Countering Jaitley’s charge that national security was compromised by the Congress, Sharma said, “Does national security say that there should be corruption and a wrong decision.”