Govt misleading nation on Rafale deal: Congress

Anand Sharma

New Delhi, Jul 23 : In a fresh offensive, the Congress today 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 the 2008 Indo-French pact that binds the government from revealing price details of the fighter aircraft.

The Congress is likely to raise the heat on the government on the issue and may move a privilege motion against PM Modi and Sitharaman for “misleading” the Lok Sabha.

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 A K Antony, Anand Sharma and Randeep Surjewala — who demanded the Modi dispensation must reveal the price details of the aircraft.

The 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 from revealing the price details of the Rafale deal. They also indicated that Congress may bring a privilege motion against the PM 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 to 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, 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.

After Gandhi’s remarks, the French Foreign Ministry had said France had signed a security pact with India in 2008 which 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 Gandhi 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 (CAG) as well as the Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

“They must reveal the price details of the aircraft and they must also tell us why a company was selected as offset partner which has no experience manufacturing aircraft,” said Antony, alleging the private player has benefited by crores.

Addressing the joint press conference, his colleague Anand 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.”

Sharma also said France never had any reservation or any issue about the disclosure of the price of the aircraft which under the French law is mandatory.

“It is a sad day that they are not respecting even the Constitution of the country by telling that they cannot disclose and brazenly misleading the Parliament. Under the French law, annual mandatory filing is there even by the companies concerned,” he said.

“I have no hesitation to say that, going by the record of this Government, the contradictory statements and denials, this is definitely a scam,” he 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,” he said.

On Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with the French president, Sharma said, “What the French president had said in the interview and in the meeting, is the truth that the French government has no objection, no reservation and no hesitation to reveal the price or to make it public.”

Surjewala said this is a clear cut denigration of the faith that the Parliament reposes in both the prime minister and the defence minister.

“It is a clear cut case of misleading the Nation and the Parliament. That issue relates to Lok Sabha and the leader of the Congress Party in Lok Sabha will soon be taking a call,” he said.

According to the Congress leaders, the prime minister “sought to hide behind a cloak of pseudo-nationalism in the Rafale deal” during the debate on the ‘no-confidence motion’ against the government in Parliament on July 20.

“Shoddy cover-up, self-defeating assertions and deliberate lies are 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,” the statement said.

The Congress has been ramping up attack on the government over the Rafale issue, claiming that the deal negotiated under its rule was much cheaper then the contract signed by the Modi government to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets from France at a cost of Rs 58,000 crore.

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 deal negotiated by the UPA could not be finalised by it.

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