Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday 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).
Addressing the Lok Sabha during his speech in the debate on the no-confidence motion against the NDA government, Gandhi said the French president had clearly conveyed to him that there was no problem in sharing details relating to the Rafale deal worth Rs 58,000 crore.
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 one of his sharpest attacks on the government on the issue of alleged graft, Gandhi also trained his guns on Modi.
“I can see him smiling. There is a touch of nervousness. He is looking away, not looking into my eyes,” he said, intensifying protests from the treasury benches with opposition members rising to their feet to counter them.
The truth is that Modi is not a “chowkidar” but a “bhagidaar” in the wrong-doings, the Congress chief said.
“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.
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, Nirmala 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.
Meanwhile, the French government has reacted to Rahul Gandhi’s charges against the BJP government over the Rafale deal. In its statement, the French government said, “We have noted the statement of Mr Rahul Gandhi before the Indian Parliament. France and India concluded in 2008 a security agreement, which legally binds the two States to protect the classified information provided by the partner that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of India or France. These provisions naturally apply to the IGA concluded on September 23, 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons. As the President of the French Republic indicated publicly in an interview given to India Today on March 9, 2018, “In India and in France, when a deal is very sensitive, we can’t reveal all details.”