Congress President Rahul Gandhi today accused the government of “lying” to the nation on the issue of sharing details of the Rafale jet deal which was rejected strongly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling the charges “distortion of truth”. In his response on the issue while replying to the debate on no-confidence motion, Modi urged Gandhi to not make such childish allegations on such sensitive issues having security implications. “The allegations are distortion of truth.” Referring to the Rafale deal in his speech, Gandhi accused the government of indulging in corruption in the deal and described Modi as a “bhagidaar” (collaborator) in cases of alleged graft, not a “chowkidaar (guard).
Gandhi said the French president had clearly conveyed to him during a meeting that there was no problem in sharing details relating to the Rafale deal worth Rs 58,000 crore. Hours after Gandhi’s comments, a spokesperson in the French Foreign Ministry said France had signed a security pact with India in 2008 which legally binds the two countries to protect the classified information which could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment. However, the official did not clarify whether the provisions of the pact restrict the Indian government to disclose price details of the Rafale deal. Alleging corruption in the deal, the Congress has been demanding details, including cost of equipment and weapons, but the government has refused to share them citing a secrecy pact with France. In his reply, Modi said, “Just because of one careless allegation in the House on Rafale, both the nations had to release statements. We should not indulge in such childish behaviour.”
Earlier, Gandhi made one of his sharpest attacks on the government, saying the truth is that Modi is not a “chowkidar” but a “bhagidaar” in the wrong-doings. “I personally met the French president and asked him if there is such a pact between the French and Indian governments. The French president told me that there is no such pact between the French and Indian governments,” Gandhi said. “This is the truth, and he told me that I have no objection to it (details of Rafale deal) being made public, you can tell it to entire India,” he said. After the statement by the French official, Gandhi said he stood by his statement. The Congress president alleged that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was lying to the country under pressure from the prime minister. “Who is being helped, why is the help being given, Niramala ji, the prime minister should tell the country.” Vehemently rejecting the charges, Sitharaman said the secrecy agreement with France was signed in 2008 and the Rafale deal was covered under it.
“As per article 10 of the Inter Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and France, on purchase of Rafale aircraft, protection of classified information and materials exchanged under IGA shall be governed by provisions of security agreement signed on January 25, 2008,” she said. Sitharaman said the pact was inked during the UPA regime when A K Antony was the defence minister. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar also rejected the charges. India signed an inter-governmental agreement with France in September 2016 for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one-and-half years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris.
The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September 2019. The Congress had raised several questions about the deal including the rates, and accused the government of compromising national interest and security while causing a loss to the public exchequer. The Congress has alleged that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper than the contract signed by the Modi government. The government has been refusing to divulge details of the deal citing confidentiality provisions of an Indo-French pact of 2008. The Congress also claimed that Qatar had purchased 12 Rafale fighter jets in November 2017 for USD 108.33 million per aircraft (Rs 694.80 crore), noting that the per aircraft rate at which the Gulf nation is buying the jet is much lower than the rate at which India will procure them.