DEFENDING the government over the Rafale aircraft deal, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley alleged on Sunday that there was some “jugalbandi (connection)” between Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and former French president Francois Hollande.
“I am surprised. On August 30, he (Rahul) tweeted that bombs are going to explode in France (over the Rafale deal). How did he come to know about that?” Jaitley said in an interview to ANI. “Though I do not have any proof of this jugalbandi, but this creates suspicion in mind. There is definitely something… A statement comes (from Hollande), then it is contradicted. But he (Rahul) predicted this to happen 20 days in advance.”
Jaitley was referring to the recent statement by Hollande that Reliance Defence was chosen as the offset partner in the deal by Rafale makers Dassault Aviation because the Indian government had proposed its name. On August 30, Rahul had tweeted that there would be “some big bunker buster bombs in the next couple of weeks” over the Rafale deal.
Hollande was the French president when the deal for buying 36 Rafale jets was signed in 2016.
In the ANI interview, Jaitley also asserted that the fighter jet deal would not be scrapped. “Koi prashna nahin uthta. Ye fauj ki avashaktya hai. Ye desh main aana chahiye, aur ye aayega (There is no question of scrapping the deal. These fighters are needed by the defence forces. They should come and they will come),” the Finance Minister said.
Rahul hit back, accusing Jaitley of spinning lies. “Mr Jetlie’s speciality is his ability to spin ‘2 truths’, or lies, with fake self righteousness & indignation to defend the indefensible. It’s high time he, the RM (Raksha Mantri) & our PM stop lying and call a JPC to establish the full, uncorrupted truth about the #RafaleScam,” the Congress chief tweeted.
Continuing the Congress’s attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, senior party leader Anand Sharma said he had violated the oath of confidentiality regarding the deal. “Only he could have told Anil Ambani that HAL (the PSU first expected to be part of the Rafale deal) will be out and he would strike a deal to buy 36 jets and ‘You (Ambani) go and talk to Dassault Aviation’,” Sharma said.
Sharma also attacked Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, calling her “arrogant” and accusing her of “lying deliberately and continuously”. “Why is the Prime Minister silent?… It was he who had overturned the (earlier) deal… It was an unauthorised action on the part of the Prime Minister without the mandate from the Cabinet Committee on Security. So he has to answer.”
He added, “Could the government of France or its president or Dassault company have decided that HAL will be out?… Could a private company have decided it?… If the former French president has said that France had no say (in the selection of the offset partner), why is this government contesting and insulting a former French president?”
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and TDP president Chandrababu Naidu also demanded an answer from PM Modi on Sunday over “the revelations” made by Hollande.
Jaitley hit out at both Rahul and Hollande in a Facebook post too, saying “the former French President’s first statement rhymes with Rahul Gandhi’s prediction”. “A controversy is sought to be created on the basis of a statement made by the former French President Hollande, that the Reliance Defence ‘partnership’ with Dassault Aviation was entered (into) at the suggestion of the Indian Government. In a subsequent statement the former President has sought to suggest that Reliance Defence emerged on the scene after the agreement with the Indian Government was entered into. He has, in a subsequent statement, said that he is ‘not aware’ if Government ever lobbied for Reliance Defence and that ‘the partners chose themselves’. Truth cannot have two versions.”
Jaitley added, “The French Government and M/s Dassault Aviation have categorically denied the correctness of the former President’s first statement. The French Government has stated that the decision with regard to the offset contracts of Dassault Aviation are taken by the company and not the Government. Dassault Aviation itself has suggested that they have entered into multiple contracts with several public sector and private sector companies with regard to the offset contracts and the decision is entirely theirs.”
The Finance Minister said as per the second statement of Hollande, Dassault and Reliance selected themselves as partners. “This contradicts his first questionable statement which the French Government and Dassault have denied. The facts contradict the same. His second statement in Montreal, Canada to AFP (news agency) makes the veracity of his first statement even more questionable.”
When asked whether India had pressured Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande had told news agency AFP that he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this”.
Jaitley also slammed Rahul for calling the PM a thief, criticising the “vulgar language”. “I have said how public discourse should be. It is not a laughter challenge. You go and hug someone, then you wink, utter lies 4-6-10 times. Your words should reflect intellect. Vulgarity and abusive language does not suit the world’s largest democracy.”