Countering the Congress demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Rafale deal, the BJP Monday said there was “an international conspiracy” behind the attack on the government and any such probe could “expose the country’s defence preparedness to our enemies and opponents”.
Separately, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while acknowledging “there is a perception war”, said the BJP will launch a nationwide campaign to counter the “smear” campaign by the Congress.
Referring to former French President Francois Hollande’s remarks that the Indian government wanted Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence to be chosen as the offset partner in the Rafale deal, Sitharaman said: “We recognise there is a perception war. We will fight this battle. We will go around the country and place facts on record. Congress designs to run a smear campaign against us. Now you see an international dimension also to it.”
Echoing Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s remarks attacking Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman said Hollande’s remarks which came after Rahul Gandhi’s tweet that there would be “some big bunker buster bombs” could not have been coincidental. “There is a certain desperation to make the government blemished on the issue of corruption,” she said.
Speaking for the BJP, Minister of State Gajendra Singh Shekhawat alleged an “international conspiracy” that involved Rahul Gandhi, and said it was all to “demoralise” the Indian Air Force and “weaken the country’s defence”. He said the Congress now wanted the Rafale deal cancelled because it wanted the contract to go through the defence firm of arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, a friend of Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra. He also claimed that the earlier Rafale deal for 126 aircraft was cancelled by the UPA because it didn’t materalise via this route.
Shekhawat told reporters: “Their (Congress) first milestone was to get the deal cancelled and get national interest compromised by questioning the deal. They wanted to create a row between Reliance and HAL and create confusion among people. On the basis of these two, they sought a JPC.”
“If there is a JPC investigation, classified secrets about the country’s defence and details about international deals — what kind of equipment, what calibre it has, and what is its quality — will become public which will help those against whom we are defending the nation from, our enemies and opponents,” he said.
According to Shekhawat, the deal was “cancelled” during the UPA tenure — former Defence Minister and Congress leader A K Antony had said earlier this month that the UPA was still negotiating the deal with Dassault when it was voted out of power in 2014.
“Congress is making a non-issue an issue for public debate… Time has come for Congress party to answer why the Rafale deal was scrapped during the stint of UPA government… and why Congress is against this G2G (government-to-government deal),” he said.
“The UPA regime wanted to use the firms of Robert Vadra and Sanjay Bhandari as middlemen in procuring the Rafale defence deal. But when it could not do so, the Congress party is now trying to take revenge by maligning the NDA government by alleging corruption in the Rafale deal,’’ Shekhawat alleged.
“It is a conspiracy to demoralise the Air Force and weaken the country’s defence preparedness. And why did they do it? You have to read this with (Congress leader) Mani Shankar Aiyar’s move to seek help from outside forces to remove Modi. There was also a tweet from a Pakistan leader that Rahul Gandhi would be India’s next Prime Minister. One has to read all these together. Hollande’s statement also should be read in the same lines,” Shekhawat said.
Meanwhile, in Lucknow, Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters: “Former French President Francois Hollande has issued a clarification on the matter and after his clarification, there is no room for any doubt… The Opposition does not have any issue left and that is why it is taking up the Rafale deal issue. The Congress is making it an issue to gain political mileage ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.”