A war of words erupted between BJP and Congress over the Rafale row on Friday after the grand-old party alleged that the NDA government has wronged the country by reducing the number of aircraft bought under the deal as it "denied" the IAF the jets it "desperately" needed and gave a "windfall" to Dassault Aviation by paying more per aircraft.
However, the government rejected the media report which was cited by the Congress to target it as "factually inaccurate". The government also asked them to await the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) which has been given access to all the files relating to the contract.
The report claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision to buy 36 Rafale jets, instead of 126 as negotiated by the previous UPA government, while bypassing mandated procedures pushed the price of each aircraft up by 41.42 per cent.
Addressing a press conference, senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the government did not buy the 90 more aircraft needed by the Air Force and paid Rs 186 crore more to French firm Dassault, maker of Rafale, for 13 India-specific enhancements in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).
The former finance minister while citing the report reiterated his party's demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale jet deal, saying the decision is not amenable to court but to a parliamentary panel.
The Defence Ministry, however, rebutted the allegations saying the report compared "price of 2007 with the price of 2016 without considering the escalation factors inherent in the price bid". The UPA government had started the process of procuring the jets in 2007.
"The article is factually inaccurate. It does not adduce any new argument. All the issues have been answered in detail by the Government at various fora and most recently by the Raksha Mantri in an open debate in Parliament," a ministry spokesperson said.
Citing the newspaper report, Chidambaram had alleged, "The government has wronged the country in two ways - firstly, it has compromised national security by denying to the Air Force 90 fighter aircraft that they desperately need.
"Secondly, it has purchased two squadrons that will cost about €25 million more per aircraft. At the 2016 exchange rate, Euro 25 million is equal to Rs 186 crore. India will pay Rs 186 crore more per aircraft."
"There is no doubt any longer that Rafale aircraft deal deserves to be examined thoroughly by a joint parliamentary committee. The Congress reiterates its demand for constitution of a JPC," he said.
The Congress has alleged earlier that the prime minister increased the ‘Benchmark Price’ of Rafale deal from 5.2 billion Euros to 8.2 billion Euros and that the NDA government paid over Rs 1,600 crore per aircraft against UPA's negotiated price of Rs 527 crore per aircraft, demanding answers as to who is responsible for the loss to the state exchequer.
Rejecting the Congress' charges, BJP leader and Union minister Smriti Irani said the opposition party's "malicious campaign has been exposed" as she noted the Supreme Court verdict on the matter and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's over 90-minute reply in Parliament.
Irani said those who are on bail are running a false propaganda in a dig at Rahul Gandhi and Chidambaram.
"The Congress' game of running a malicious campaign on this issue and abandoning national interest for their own politics has been exposed," she said.
"The Supreme Court has spoken on it, the defence minister has spoken on it...for those who use this for their own political ends, yeh public hai, sab janti hai (the public knows it all)," Irani said.
Chidambaram said he feels that Dassault "is laughing all the way to the bank", as the NDA government gave a "gift" to the French firm over amortization or recovery on the cost of 13 India-specific enhancements sought in the aircraft that cost 1,300 million Euros.
He said the cost of these enhancements have been recovered by Dassault in 36 aircraft and the same should have been recovered by it for 126 aircraft instead.
Chidambaram said he has only analyzed a part of the new information available and awaited more information to come.
"That is a windfall for Dassault. That is the gift that the NDA government has given to Dassault and that is why I said Dassault is laughing all the way to the bank... The windfall to Dassault is highly questionable. The windfall to Dassault is undeserved. The windfall to Dassault was certainly not through as per negotiation, it was a deliberate decision," he alleged.
"The increased price per aircraft is a gift to Dassault that the NDA government gave between April 2015 to August 2016," he also said.
Chidambaram said serious issues are being raised in media reports about the process of decision-making in the NDA government and alleged that "the man who got away was Mr Manohar Parrikar who passed the buck to the Cabinet Committee on Security. Clever man."
"We will not comment on the process today. However, it is necessary to compliment the three officers of the Indian Negotiating Team who stood up to pressure and forced a vote of 4-3 on every issue," he said, adding that he has never seen such a decision on a defence deal happening in any government so far in the country.
CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury alleged, "Modi's sudden announcement in Paris, to buy only 36 Rafale jets, not 126 that the Air Force wanted, violated all procedure. But it also compromised India's national security and increased the price by 41%! That is why Modi has been running scared of sharing details."
He said the CPI(M) had long demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the deal but the government had blocked all such efforts.
"It is crystal clear now, and no amount of spin will help," the CPI(M) leader said.