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BJP, Congress trade barbs over Rafale deal; ex-defence minister AK Antony rubbishes Centre's claim of secrecy clause

New Delhi: The Congress on Monday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying in Parliament on the Rafale deal, saying there was no secrecy clause in a 2008 Indo-French pact that binds the government from revealing price details of the jets, charges termed as "falsehood" by the BJP.

Days after Congress president Rahul Gandhi forcefully attacked the government in Parliament on the Rafale deal, the party fielded three of its top leaders — former defence minister AK Antony, Anand Sharma and Randeep Surjewala — who said revealing the "commercial cost" of Rafale aircraft will neither violate any "secrecy agreement" with the French government, nor disclose any classified or protected information.

File image of a Rafale fighter jet. Reuters

File image of a Rafale fighter jet. Reuters

At a press conference, they alleged Modi "sought to hide behind a cloak of pseudo-nationalism in the Rafale deal" during the debate on the no-confidence motion in Parliament on 20 July.

Antony, who was the defence minister in 2008 when India and France inked an inter-governmental agreement on defence procurement, said the government's claim that a secrecy clause in the pact was forcing it to not reveal price details of the deal was "totally wrong".

Dismissing Congress' charges, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserted that the base price of each aircraft negotiated by the Centre with the French government is at 91.75 million euros, which is 9 percent less than the 100.85 million euros the UPA government had decided upon.

For the Congress, Sharma said: "The prime minister is equally accountable. He is equally responsible. He too enthusiastically repeated the lie and misled the House and misled the people of the country. I am sure since this was in the Lok Sabha, it shall be appropriately taken forward."

In his address during the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government on Friday, Gandhi had said that French President Emmanuel Macron had told him during a meeting that there was no secrecy pact that forces India from revealing price details of the Rafale aircraft.

Prasad dismissed Congress' charges as a "collective singing of falsehood" to defend Rahul, who, he said, was "prima facie guilty of breach of privilege for misleading" the Lok Sabha. Prasad also cited replies made in Parliament by the former 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.

The Congress has been demanding that the government share details of the Rafale fighter aircraft price as it accused the Modi government of buying them at thrice the price negotiated by the UPA government for 126 aircraft. The government has rejected the demand, citing secrecy clause in the 2008 pact.

In their press briefing, the Congress leaders also released a copy of the confidential agreement the UPA government had signed with France in January 2008, to drive home the point that it does not restrict India to reveal the price details of the Rafale deal. They indicated that the Congress may bring a privilege motion against Modi and Sitharaman.

According to copy of the agreement released by Congress, both French and Indian governments, in accordance with their national laws, shall take all measures necessary for the protection of classified information and material provided ti them under it or in accordance with agreements, contracts or sub-contracts concluded between or by the two sides or by their authorised agencies.

In his address during the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government on Friday, Rahul had said that the French president had told him during a meeting that there was no secrecy pact that forces India from revealing price details of the Rafale aircraft.

After Gandhi's remarks, the French foreign ministry said France had signed a security pact with India in 2008 that legally binds the two countries to protect the classified information which could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment. In his reply to the motion, Modi asked Rahul to not make such "childish" allegations on such sensitive issues.

In today's press conference, Antony said the government's claim that a secrecy clause in the pact was forcing it to not reveal price details of the deal was "totally wrong". Antony also said the government cannot hide the price details of the Rafale jets as the deal has to be scrutinised by the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as Parliament's Public Accounts Committee. "They must reveal the price details of the aircraft and they must also tell us why a company was selected as offset partner who has no experience manufacturing aircraft," said Antony, alleging the private player has benefited by crores.

Sharma said: "The French government had no objection in revealing the price of the Rafale aircraft. This was conveyed by the French president to Rahul Gandhi during a meeting in which I was present along with the former prime minister."

The Congress had claimed that the per aircraft price under the deal inked by the NDA came to Rs 1,600 crore as against the Rs 520 crore negotiated during the UPA. The UPA could not finalise the deal it negotiated.


Updated Date: Jul 23, 2018 22:31 PM

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