TRIGGERING A political slugfest, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday that former French President Francois Hollande’s statement showed there was “clear cut corruption in the Rafale deal”, and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clarify his position. Hitting back, the BJP accused Rahul of defaming a popular Prime Minister.
Hollande, who was President of France when the deal for 36 Rafale fighter aircraft was signed with India, has said that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence was chosen as the offset partner by Dassault Aviation because the Indian government “proposed” its name.
Addressing a press conference, Rahul said it is “very important for the Prime Minister now to either accept Hollande’s statement and say yes, it is the truth, Mr Narendra Modi gave the Rafale contract and Rs 30,000 crore to Mr Anil Ambani; or Mr Hollande is not telling the truth and here is the truth.”
“Because, for the first time probably in Indian history, an ex-French President is calling our Prime Minister a thief. So, it is very important that the Prime Minister makes it very clear what his position is. It is the question of the dignity of the office of the Prime Minister. It is a defence related question… it is a question of the future of our soldiers, the future of our Air Force,” said Rahul.
Expressing surprise over Modi’s silence, he said: “This gentleman is not just any person. He is the ex-President of France, who had a one-to-one meeting with the PM, where the Rafale contract was decided.” Rahul alleged it was clear that Modi gave the contract to Reliance Defence as a “free gift”.
“It is now up to the Prime Minister of India to clear his name. We are absolutely convinced that the Prime Minister of India is corrupt. This question is now clearly settled in the minds of the Indian people that desh ka chowkidaar chor hain. I am trying to help the Prime Minister. I am telling him to clear the air. I want to protect the (dignity of the) office he occupies. You tell the country that Hollande is incorrect. But you are not uttering a word,” he said.
“The decision was taken by the Prime Minister and the person who went to France with the Prime Minister’s delegation benefitted. There should be a JPC probe. Let a JPC be formed… let’s invite Hollande also… everything will become clear,” he said.
Criticising Rahul for his remarks, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “The Congress president has called the Prime Minister, who is popular and honest, a thief. No political leader in independent India’s history has used such language against the Prime Minister.”
Prasad said Dassault Aviation and Reliance had entered into an agreement as early as 2012, when the Congress-led UPA was in power. Ruling out the demand for a JPC probe, he told a press conference that it cannot be done merely to satisfy the ego of “an arrogant and ill-informed leader repeating lies after lies”.
He sought to discredit Hollande’s claim, saying that French journalists have spoken about his “conflict of interests”. It is none of our concern, he added.
Prasad claimed the UPA government terminated negotiations with Dassault after a contract negotiation committee had chosen it as the lowest bidder in 2012 following years of process, because the company did not pay it “bribe”. There was pressure on the company for “extraneous considerations”, he said, adding that Modi decided to go ahead with the Rafale deal as the IAF needed fighter aircraft urgently.
He also alleged that Rahul was “helping” Pakistan, and was playing into the hands of India’s “enemies”, by demanding that the government reveal the full price details of the deal.
Responding to a question, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said: “One should think four times before levelling any baseless allegation. One should not make allegations without proof.”
Other Union Ministers took to social media to slam Rahul. “Out on bail, Rahul Gandhi & his family have long been the primary source of corruption in the country. They are today blaming Hon’ble PM Narendra Modi in the Rafale deal, who has given India its most honest administration since Independence,” tweeted Railways Minister Piyush Goyal.
“Rafale for Congress is ‘Rahul Firse Launch Abhiyan’. Congress can try as hard as they want, Rafale will not help establish Rahul Gandhi’s career. It is only establishing Rahul as the Merchant of Jhooth,” said Health Minister J P Nadda.
Meanwhile, the Left parties too targeted the government. The CPI(M) said Hollande’s statement had “exposed” the claims made by the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman that the Indian government had no role as a “blatant lie”. “The Rafale deal is proving to be a first rate scam which the Modi government is desperately trying to cover up. A JPC must be formed without delay,” said the CPI(M) politburo.
“Both Modi and Nirmala Sitharaman must accept moral responsibility, order a parliamentary probe and quit their official positions in the Union Cabinet to save the country’s image, domestically and internationally,” the CPI said, as it asked the Chief Justice of India to suo motu order a Supreme Court-monitored probe into the deal.