The Congress is most likely to move a privilege motion against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Lok Sabha for 'misleading the House' on details of the Rafale jet deal.
Accusing PM Modi and the Defence Minister for misleading the nation on the Rafale issue, former Defence Minister and senior Congress leader AK Antony said that the government's claim that a 'secrecy clause' in the deal was forcing it not to reveal the price details of the deal was 'totally wrong'. They have to reveal the prices of each aircraft, he added.
Earlier in the day, talking to reporters at a press conference in New Delhi, Congress leader Anand Sharma said that both the Prime Minister and Defence Minister have misled the Parliament. "The statement sent by the French government talks of classified information on security, defence and operational capability; nowwhere it refers to the price. The price is not covered under the confidential agreement"; Anand Sharma added.
Both Anthony and Sharma said that the Prime Minister sought to 'hide behind a cloak of pseudo nationalism' in the Rafale deal and said the truth was that the Modi government was 'guilty of compromising national interest and national security'.
The two leaders said that "shoddy cover-up, self defeating assertions and deliberate lies were being dished out to divert, dupe and deceive".
"Grave apprehensions and claims of insurmountable loss being caused to public exchequer stand exposed as government refuses to state the truth," they said.
Claiming that the per aircraft price of Rafale as per international bid in 2012 during UPA government came to Rs 18,940 crore for 36 aircraft, the leaders said the Modi government purchased the same number of aircraft for Rs 60,145 crore and asked BJP to explain the extra amount of Rs 41,000 crore paid from public money. "This price is apparent from the 'Annual Report, 2016' of Dassault Aviation," they said.
They contended that under the law, the government was bound to provide to full information to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and the Comptroller and Director General of India (CAG) and asked why the Modi government was not disclosing the commercial cost of the deal.
Antony and Sharma referred to two replies given by the Defence Ministry in 2016 and 2018 in Parliament revealing the price to be approximately Rs 670 crore per aircraft and asked why was the Defence Minister lying today.
They also quoted an interview given by French President Emmanuel Macron to a prominent news channel in India saying that if the Modi government wanted to disclose some of the details with the opposition, it can do so.
"Prime Minister Modi in Parliament took refuge in the statement released by the French government. Modi government must tell that the price of Rafale is not a secret, its specifications and weaponry are. The statement said the agreement 'legally binds the two states to protect the classified information provided by the partner that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipments of India and France'."
The Congress asked where had the French government even said that the price of Rafale aircraft cannot be disclosed.
The two leaders also referred to answers given by the UPA government between 2010 and 2013 regarding the price of acquiring INS Vikramaditya, upgrade of Mirage aircraft, procurement of Sukhoi aircraft and development of Kaveri engine.
Party sources said a proper decison to move privilege motion against PM Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will be taken after consultations between legal experts and the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge.
Meanwhile, dismissing Congress' charges, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the base price of each aircraft negotiated by the government with the French government is at 91.75 million Euro, which is nine per cent less than the 100.85 million Euro the UPA government had decided upon.
Prasad dismissed Congress' charges as a "collective singing of falsehood" to defend Rahul Gandhi, who, he said, was "prima facie guilty of breach of privilege for misleading" the Lok Sabha. Prasad also cited replies made in Parliament by then UPA government on defence purchases and other issues in which its defence minister, first Pranab Mukherjee and then Antony, had declined to share price details and other information on the ground of national security.
"The stand of the Congress on the Rafale deal is clearly not in the interest of the country," he told reporters.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday had accused the government of “lying” to the nation on the issue of sharing details of the Rafale jet deal and described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “bhagidaar” (collaborator) in cases of alleged corruption, not a “chowkidaar (guard). He also alleged that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was lying to the country under pressure from the prime minister.
In reply, Defence Minster Nirmala Sitharaman dismissed the allegations made by Rahul Gandhi as completely 'wrong' and said that the India-France agreement to buy the fighter jets was signed in 2008 by the then Defence Minister AK Antony and it had the confidentiality clause.
Meanwhile, reacting to Congress president Rahul Gandhi's attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government over the Rafale deal, France on Friday said that the details of the deal can't be revealed as it's "classified information".
Earlier on Sunday, Rahul Gandhi intensified his attack on the PM Modi-led government over the Rafale deal saying that there was certainly a 'scam' in the deal and accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of doing a 'flip-flop' on secrecy clause. Gandhi also attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue, alleging he "squirms" when asked about the prices of the fighter aircraft.
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.