New Delhi: The raging political row over the Rafale deal escalated further on Tuesday with the Congress dismissing as “manufactured lies” claims by the CEO of French plane maker Dassault Aviation that there was no wrong-doing in the contract and Rahul Gandhi firing a fresh salvo at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over it.
Hitting back at Gandhi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress chief’s failed politics is compelling him to resort to “falsehood” and “petty hair-splitting” to make the sensitive Rafale purchase defence deal controversial. His Cabinet colleague Ravi Shankar Prasad told PTI that Trappier’s claims have in fact “exposed all the lies” of Gandhi whose behaviour, he alleged, had become increasingly irresponsible and oblivious to India’s security needs. Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Randeep Surjewala joined Gandhi in accusing the government of a “cover-up”, hours after Dassault CEO Eric Trappier rebutted the party’s allegations.
Congress chief spokesperson Surjewala said the nation needs a “fair investigation” and not “doctored explanations” on the fighter jet deal, referring to comments by Trappier in a media interview that there was no corruption in the deal as alleged by the opposition party. Dassault Aviation did not respond to a series of questions sent by PTI over the allegations including why it selected Reliance Defence Ltd, a company with not much experience in aerospace sector, for complying with offset obligations of the deal, and what was the reason behind the company’s investment in loss-making Reliance Airport Developers Limited (RADL).
The Congress has been making a relentless attack on the government, alleging a massive scam in the deal and accusing it of forcing the French aerospace major to partner with Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) for fulfilling offset obligations. The government, RDL and Dassault have rejected the charges. Trappier’s interview came a day before the Supreme Court is scheduled to examine the government’s submission on the decision-making process and pricing details relating to the deal. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari alleged that the government, through its affidavit in apex court, was trying to “conceal more than it reveals” and posed a set of questions.
“Dictated interviews and manufactured lies cannot cover up corruption in the Rafale deal. The first rule of law is mutual beneficiaries and the co-accused’s statements hold no value. The second rule is beneficiaries and accused cannot be a judge in their own case. Truth has a way of coming out. Mr Modi, the nation does not want doctored explanations,” Surjewala said. “The fixed match between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Dassault Aviation will not hide the scam. The PR stunt that Eric Trappier and the Prime Minister Modi are doing will not cover up the layers of corruption in the Rafale deal,” he alleged.
The Left parties also alleged that the government had spun a “web of lies” to hide “corruption” and its “wrong doings” in the Rafale jet fighter deal. CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury said “cronies” of all kinds, from France to India, were trying to defend the Modi government on the issue and such efforts will go in vain. CPI national secretary D Raja said Trappier’s comments do not prove that there was no scam in the deal. The Congress, on its Twitter handle also said, “The government’s submission to Supreme Court on the Rafale Scam makes it clear they did not take the basic steps fundamental to defence procurement. Prime Minister Modi’s corruption is crystal clear.”
“There is a very clear violation of the Defence Procurement Procedure. Every process has been completed post-facto. The Rafale deal is shrouded in secrecy and it is very clear that a desperate government is using all tools and means at its disposal for a cover-up,” Sharma alleged. The Centre on Monday informed the Supreme Court that the Defence Procurement Procedure as laid out by the UPA in 2013 was “completely followed” in procuring 36 jets from France and the deal was subsequently approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security.
Mounting a fresh offensive against the prime minister, Gandhi tagged a media report with his tweet alleging the government has thrown up more “wrong-doings” by Modi in the Rafale deal in its affidavit before the apex court. The media report claimed the affidavit has made it clear that the government did not take the most basic steps that are fundamental to any procurement. In a tweet in Hindi, Gandhi alleged “Modi ji has admitted to his theft in the Supreme Court. In the affidavit, he admitted to changes in the contract without asking the Air Force and put Rs 30,000 crore in Ambani’s pocket.
“The picture is still to come my friend.” He also raised the issue of the Rafale deal at a poll rally in Chhattisgarh. Modi went to France with Ambani, snatched Rafale contract from the HAL and gave it to him, Gandhi said in Raipur. Modi snatched Rs 30,000 crore from the poor, put it in Ambani’s pocket, Gandhi said, adding, “Modi works for very rich and not poor.” Sharma said the government had embarked on a tardy cover-up of the scam.
“The timing of Dassault CEO Eric Trappier’s interview is significant, as elections are nearing. All the processes and procedures are post-facto after the prime minister had personally changed the parameters and brought down the number of aircraft from 126 to 36,” he alleged. The UPA government was negotiating a deal with Dassault for procuring 126 Rafale jets. However, the deal did not go through.