New Delhi: The Congress on Monday announced its resolve to take the Rafale fighter aircraft scam to its logical conclusion in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This is to avenge the BJP raking up the Bofors kickback allegation 30 years ago, a blot which cost Rajiv Gandhi the 1989 election.
The Congress is convinced that this is the Modi government’s biggest ever scam, 640 times bigger than the bogus Bofors charge and the party is determined to use it as its biggest ammunition in the next elections. Accusing PM Modi and his Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of misleading the nation by telling a “lie” on the floor of Parliament about the “secrecy agreement” that prevents them from revealing the commercial cost of the Rafale deal with France, former defence minister A K Antony said that the January 2008 agreement signed by him does not cover the “commercial cost” as claimed by the two.
“The scope of the agreement only extends to tactical and technical details of weaponry relating to the capability of the platform in question and its performance and tactics in combat” that can be protected as classified information but it does not cover commercial details and costs. Senior Congress spokesman Anand Sharma, who sat with Antony at the Press conference, said it is a massive scam of Rs 41,205 crore. It involved purchase of 36 fighter aircraft for Rs 60,145 crore, as against the international bid of Rs 18,940 crore in December 2012 during the UPA regime.
He said the aircraft would have cost India Rs 526.10 crore each, but Modi went to Paris and agreed to buy the same aircraft at Rs 1670.70 crore each (Euro 7.5 billion or Rs 60,145 crore for 36 aircraft.) “We have extracted this price from the aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s annual report, 2016,” he added. Sharma pointed out that while Defence Minister Sitharaman had claimed the secrecy clause prevented her from disclosing the commercial cost of the deal, her minister of state for defence Subhash Bhamre had no qualms in cleverly playing down the Rafale aircraft cost as Rs 670 crore each. Bhamre had said this in reply to a question by AAP MP Sanjay Singh in the Rajya Sabha on March 19, 2018.
The junior minister cleverly suppressed the real price by stating that the aircraft price he was quoting was “without associated equipment, weapons, India specific enhancements, maintenance support and services,” the Congress leader said. He indicated that the Congress plans to move a privilege motion against her for allegedly misleading the House on the Rafale deal while other party sources said the leadership was considering a similar privilege motion against Prime Minister Modi as well. This came in wake of a privilege motion against Congress president Rahul Gandhi for allegedly “misleading” the House by making false allegations against the Prime Minister and Sitharaman and violating the House decorum by giving an unwanted hug to Modi.
While the defence minister cited a secrecy clause between India and France as a reason why she cannot reveal the price during the no-confidence debate on Friday, Rahul accused her of lying and claimed that he was told by French President Emmanuel Macron that no such pact was stopping the Centre from disclosing the price details of the aircraft. The tussle in Parliament prompted the French government to clarify that the secrecy pact signed between the two countries in 2008 was applicable to the Rafale deal, an endorsement of Sitharaman’s claim, but without a word on the claimed conversation between Gandhi and Macron.