The Congress and the BJP were locked in a slanging match over the Rafale deal, with Rahul Gandhi accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being “corrupt” and the ruling party alleging that pressure for “extraneous considerations” during the UPA rule did not allow the contract to be finalised. Questioning the prime minister’s “silence” on the Rafale issue, Congress president Gandhi asked him to come clean on the charge of favouring Reliance Defence in the deal, saying it is the question of dignity of his office and he should speak up on what former French president Francois Hollande has said. He also demanded a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), in which Hollande can be called. “Now, what the ex-President of France is saying is that the Prime Minister of India is a ‘thief’. That is what this (Hollande’s) statement is saying. “It is very important for the Prime Minister of India now to either accept Mr Hollande’s statement and say ‘Yes, it is the truth — Mr Narendra Modi gave the Rafale contract in Rs 30,000 crore to Mr Anil Ambani’, or ‘Mr Hollande is not telling the truth and here is the truth’,” Gandhi said at a press conference. Coming out in Modi’s defence, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad condemned Gandhi’s remarks as “shameful and irresponsible” and said no president of any party in independent India has ever used such language against a prime minister.
The charges flew thick and fast from both sides, with the Congress and the BJP holding press conferences in quick succession. Soon after Gandhi’s presser, the BJP held a press conference by Prasad after which Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also briefed reporters. The sharp attacks by the Congress continued a day after Hollande was quoted as saying by French media that the Indian government proposed Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the fighter jet deal.
“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 the question, it is a defence related question, it is the question of future of our ‘jawans’, the future of our soldiers, the future of our Air Force,” Gandhi said expressing surprise at Modi’s silence on the charges made by none other than a former French president. The Congress chief, alleging a “clear cut” and “cent percent” corruption” in the Rafale deal, said, “We are absolutely convinced that the Prime Minister of India is corrupt.” “This question is now clearly settled into the minds of the Indian people that the country’s watchman is a thief,” he said. This was strongly rebutted by Prasad, saying, “We cannot expect anything better from Gandhi. He has no quality, no capability and whatever he is he owes to his family… Modi is a symbol of honesty and a global leader.” He said no prime minister of India has been spoken of in a manner Gandhi did about Modi, condemning his comments as “irresponsible and shameful” and that he had painted his face black with such remarks. The BJP leader said Dassault and Reliance had entered into an agreement as early as 2012 when the Congress-led UPA was in power as he refuted the charge that the Modi government favoured the Anil Ambani-led company. Hitting back at Prasad, Congress spokesperson Surjewala said “obfuscation, subterfuge and smokescreens” would not cover the “tracks of corruption” and the “house of lies and pack of canards” would not derail the truth.
“Faced with truth on Rafale scam, Modiji’s ‘court jesters and pack of liars’ are deeply unnerved, agitated and frustrated. Abuse and subterfuge are the only weapons left in the armoury of the ‘house of lies’. “A peeved and flummoxed Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, who has been a counsel for Anil Ambani in the past, dished out a cacophony of slander and calumny to vent out his frustration and has tied himself in knots in verbal diarrhea of lies,” he said. Prasad also alleged that there was pressure for “extraneous considerations” and bribe in the deal during the UPA rule that did not see it finalised despite years of negotiations, a charge denied by the Congress.
However, Surjewala claimed it was the BJP that tried to stall the deal by raising the issue of life cycle cost of the aircraft. It was the saffron party that demanded bribe and later took the same when the deal was finalised, as cost of Rafale was three times higher than what the UPA had finalised, he alleged. Demanding a joint parliamentary committee probe into the deal, Gandhi said Finance Minister Arun Jaitley “has written a very good blog, but when it came to the JPC demand, he went silent. Let there be a JPC, we can call Hollande also in it and everything will be known”. Hollande was quoted as saying, “It was Indian government that proposed this service group, and Dassault which negotiated with Ambani. We had no choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us.” The former French president said he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this”. The French government Friday said it was in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners for the Rafale fighter jet deal. The government Saturday said it had “no role” in the selection of Reliance Defence as an offset partner of Dassault Aviation.