Congress president Rahul Gandhi slammed the Narendra Modi government over the Rafale fighter aircraft deal and raised raised doubts about the "secrecy" surrounding the negotiations and cost of the France-made fighter jet, according to several media reports.
Gandhi took to Twitter to mock the Centre, saying it was attempting to deflect questions related to public spending by dubbing it a state secret:
(Not for Distribution)
RM says the price negotiated for each RAFALE jet by the PM and his "reliable" buddy is a state secret.
1.Informing Parliament about the price is a national security threat
2.Brand all who ask, Anti National#TheGreatRafaleMystery
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) February 6, 2018
Congress' attack came after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman created an uproar after she told the Rajya Sabha she could not divulge details of the deal citing a "secrecy clause" in the agreement signed with the French government. According to a report in NDTV, Sitharaman promised to provide the break-up of the $8.7 billion deal earlier. The report further added that the confidentiality clause barred French and Indian governments from revealing the cost of the fighter jets until ordered to do so by a court, in event of a dispute between the two parties. Speaking to reporters outside Parliament on Tuesday, Rahul said that a government refusing to share detail of where and how it spent taxpayers' money was 'unheard of', ANI reported.
The Defence Minister says that we will not reveal the amount paid for buying #Rafael aircrafts. What does this mean? This only means there is a scam. Modi ji personally went to Paris, he changed the deal. The whole country knows it: Congress President Rahul Gandhi pic.twitter.com/C81lszYE9g — ANI (@ANI) February 6, 2018
Rahul also criticised the media, exhorting them to show "some backbone" and question the Rafale deal. This latest revelation of the secrecy clause only further stokes the controversy surrounding the multi-billion deal. The UPA-era deal, the negotiations for which spilled over to the Modi government's tenure, has long been a bone of contention between the Opposition and the ruling party.
The Congress has been levelling a slew of allegations against the deal, claiming that the deal was corrupt and that the government abandoned its Make in India policy by buying the French aircraft straight off the shelf. The Congress has accused Modi of cutting a raw deal with the French, wasted taxpayer money and sidelined the public sector undertaking Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to 'benefit' Reliance group of companies, a subsidiary of which is a partner in the deal.
On 2 December, questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government for remaining silent on the price at which the French Rafale aircraft were purchased, the Congress asked why they passed over an offer for Eurofighter Typhoon, which was €59 million cheaper.
The party raised the issue after news website The Print published a story entitled Before Rafale deal, Modi government passed over option to buy Rs 453 crore/unit cheaper Eurofighter, which claimed that an offer to the top level of the Indian government "involved diverting deliveries of Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Britain, Italy and Germany to meet urgent Indian requirements" was rejected.
The party asked the government to clarify if the offer was evaluated, and if so, what the reasons for rejecting it were. "We would like to know from the prime minister if there was an offer from a technically qualified bidder and that offer was ostensibly cheaper than the final contract price, what happened to that offer?," Congress leader Manish Tewari asked.
In November too, Rahul and Sitharaman engaged in a war of words over the deal, with Sitharaman terming Congress' conduct "shameful" and a "disservice to the nation", and Rahul wondering in a tweet if Sitharaman was silenced by her "boss."
Dear RM, what’s shameful is your boss silencing you. Please tell us :
1. Final price of each Rafale jet?
2. Did PM take CCS permission before announcing purchase in Paris?
3. Why PM bypassed experienced HAL & gave the deal to AA rated businessman with no defence experience?
— Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) November 18, 2017
Rahul wondered why the Modi government "bypassed" HAL and whether it took the permission of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) before announcing the purchase of the jets in Paris.
The Congress also accused the NDA government of changing the 'entire deal' to benefit a businessman. It alleged that after Modi visited France in April 2015, the government cancelled the earlier UPA deal which made HAL a partner of Dassault Aviation, and signed a new $8.7 trillion dollar deal in September 2016.
The party has been questioning why Dassault Aviation refused to transfer technology to HAL and instead entered into an agreement with Reliance Defence, a company which has no experience in defence sector.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 07:05 AM