New Delhi, July 3
Opposition Congress traded allegations with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—a development that comes as France opens a judicial investigation into the controversial Rafale jet deal.
The deal has been dogging the ruling BJP-led central government ever since a controversy over the deal for 36 jets erupted soon after India inked a deal with France in 2016.
The Congress claimed on Saturday that France’s action of opening investigations into the deal is a vindication of allegations of a “shady” dealing in the inter-governmental deal between India and France on April 10, 2015, for off-the-shelf purchase of 36 Rafale jets.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala addressed a press conference to demand that the French prosecution agency’s action of opening an investigation into the deal for “prima facie corruption” should be enough for a joint parliamentary committee probe.
“If the French prosecutors can investigate the deal along with the role of former French President Francois Hollande and incumbent French president Emmanuel Macron, why should we in India, where the deal originated, not have a JPC probe?”
Asked whether the Congress would move the courts with its demand, Surjewala said the Supreme Court while previously hearing the Rafale matter had said: “It had no jurisdiction to question the PM, the defence minister or the defence ministry officials in the matter”.
“That’s the reason the Congress never went to the SC with this case that involves national security, exchequer money and defence procurement propriety. We have always sought a JPC probe because the JPC can summon all the documents related to the deal, can also question the PM with powers of a civil court,” said Surjewala.
To a question on the SC having given a clean chit to the deal and whether the Congress should have waited a while before the French prosecutors delved deeper into the matter, Surjewala reiterated that the apex court had cited lack of jurisdiction in the matter and that with the French prosecutors already probing the deal it was “imperative for the PM to constitute a JPC.”
Claiming that the stand of former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had been vindicated, Surjewala said the decision of the French prosecution agency to investigate the deal had “unmasked the role of the NDA government and its sweetheart deals here.”
“The developments expose the role of the government. Anil Ambani’s Reliance is also under question now. We all know the French government had said it had no role in choosing Reliance, the Indian partner of Dassault,” alleged Surjewala.
The Congress questioned the role of Dassault Reliance Aerospace in which Reliance had 51 per cent and Dassault had 49 per cent stake and yet of the
169 mn euros investment cap, Dassault brought in 159 mn euro and Reliance 10 mn euro.
Surjewala recalled the March 25, 2015 statement of Dassault chief executive officer Eric Trappier who had said that Dassault and HAL agreement (for technology transfer) was on track.
“A day later we hear Dassault had entered into an agreement with Reliance and on April 10, 2015 PM Modi goes to France and signs the deal for off the shelf purchase of 36 Rafales for 7.8 billion dollar, much higher than what the Congress led UPA had negotiated along with technology transfer to HAL,” said Surjewala.
The Congress further questioned the September 2016 government decision to drop the anti-corruption clause of the defence procurement policy wondering why the clause was compromised despite the defence ministry officials stressing its importance.
“There are serious question marks on the deal. A JPC is in order,” the Congress said.
The BJP countered the allegations to accuse Congress leader Rahul Gandhi of “being used as a pawn by other competitive bidders” to sell their products to India.
The party also accused Gandhi and his party of raking up allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal in an attempt to “weaken” India.
Downplaying the appointment of a judge in France to lead a judicial investigation into the alleged corruption and favouritism in the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra told media at a press briefing that the development was the outcome of a complaint by an NGO and should not be seen as a matter of corruption.
This is akin to a competent authority in India writing down in a file that “please act accordingly” when a matter is brought before him, Patra said and charged the Congress of spreading “lies and misconceptions” over the issue and said Gandhi and his party has become “synonymous” of the two negative terms.
“The way Rahul Gandhi is behaving, it will not be an exaggeration to say that he is being used as a pawn by competing companies. He has been lying right from the beginning on the issue. Probably, he is acting as an agent or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company,” Patra alleged.
The Congress has demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the Rafale deal, saying it is the only way forward to find the truth about “corruption” in the purchase of the fighter jets.
Defending the government, Patra also cited a Supreme Court (SC) verdict and a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, both of which had found nothing wrong was committed in the deal between the Indian and French governments.
The government won a judicial verdict as well as 2019 Lok Sabha elections with improved numbers in the Lower House at a time when the Congress made the allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal as a key poll plank in its campaign.
The BJP spokesperson also cited a number of allegations leveled by Gandhi, including his attributions to former French president Francois Hollande and incumbent Emmanuel Macron to back his charge of corruption against the government, and noted that both French leaders had immediately denied making such comments.