BJP vs Congress: War of privilege motions in Parliament over Rafale row

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By
Dec 17, 2018 11:27 PM IST

The Congress has filed a breach of privilege notice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the government’s note to Supreme Court that it says, claimed that the audit report on the Rafale deal had been shared with parliament when this had not been done.

There was action on Rafale on Monday within the House, and without it.

Members protest in the well of the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi(PTI File Photo)
Members protest in the well of the Lok Sabha during the Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi(PTI File Photo)

In Parliament, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday submitted tit-for-tat privilege notices over the Supreme Court’s verdict on the fighter jet deal.

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Outside, at a press briefing in Mumbai, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman alleged that the Congress was misleading the people “knowingly’’ over the pricing of the Rafale fighter aircraft. The “first family” of the party had “amazing audacity” to not listen and accept the apex court’s ruling on the matter, Sitharaman added.

Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad sent a notice to Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu against law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad for “deliberately misleading” the Supreme Court through the attorney general that the comptroller and auditor general’s (CAG) audit report on the Rafale deal was shared with Parliament.

In the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge gave a notice of breach of privilege against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the fighter jet deal.

Congress leader Sunil Jakhar said the notice is being moved against the Prime Minister for allegedly misleading the Supreme Court and Parliament in connection with the recent judgment on the Rafale deal.

Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan said she has received the notice and the matter is under her consideration.

In a tit-for-tat, three BJP members — Anurag Thakur, Nishikant Dubey and Sanjay Jaiswal — gave a notice of breach of privilege against Congress president Rahul Gandhi, alleging that he spoke “falsehood” and “misled the House” over the Rafale deal in his speech during a debate in the Lok Sabha on the no-confidence motion in July this year.

The BJP leaders quoted Gandhi as having said that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had agreed to buy the aircraft at ~520 crore per unit but when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government signed the deal, it cost ~1,600 crore “by magic”.

“The above statement is entirely untrue.... We categorically assert that the price comparison given by Rahul Gandhi is a figment of imagination, incorrect and utter falsehood. It was an attempt to mislead the House,” they alleged.

The BJP leaders also cited the court order and noted that the government submitted a comparative chart of prices in a sealed cover to the Supreme Court.

Sitharaman held a press conference on the issue in the BJP office in Mumbai as part of the party’s initiative to hold 70 such interactions across the country on the same day to take head on the Congress’s “fictional narrative” on the purchase of the fighter jets.

The action inside and outside Parliament follows Friday’s decision by the Supreme Court that there was no reason to order a probe into the NDA government’s decision to buy 36 Rafale aircraft from France in a government-to-government deal, which replaced a previous deal-in-the-making by the Congress-led UPA government for 126 aircraft, of which 108 would be assembled in India. The Congress has claimed that the NDA deal didn’t follow due process, was done to benefit Reliance Defence (an offset partner of aircraft maker Dassault), and that the price at which the aircraft were being acquired was much higher than that at which the UPA would have closed its deal.

However, the court’s order refers to a CAG audit that is yet to be closed, which has resulted in some confusion, with the Opposition claiming that this was part of the government’s effort to mislead the court. The government has already written to the court seeking a correction in the order, and explaining that the court has taken its description of the process usually followed in the audit of all deals (and which will be followed in this case) to mean that the audit of the Rafale deal by CAG has already happened.

The Speaker now has to decide whether to take up the notice or not. If she does take it up, then it will be sent to the Privilege Committee for the next course of action.

“I have given a breach of privilege notice against the government and in particular against law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad as it was the law ministry that gave the go-ahead for presenting the affidavit before the Supreme Court,” Azad told reporters after giving the notice.

“This is why our demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) becomes more relevant. We demand that a JPC be formed to probe the theft in the Rafale deal,” the Congress leader said.

Sitharaman said the Supreme Court judgment had addressed three crucial issues — decision making process, the price and the selection of the offset partner — pertaining to the deal leaving no room for doubt.

When asked why the BJP isn’t willing to consider a JPC?probe in the deal as demanded by the Congress and as accepted by the latter in some earlier cases such as Bofors, Sitharaman said that the “situation [between these cases] was not comparable”.

“The idea of a JPC after a Supreme Court verdict by a three-judge bench including the Chief Justice... for what pray? Were the JPCs set up post apex court verdict earlier? The situation is not comparable,” said Sitharaman.

Long-time BJP ally Shiv Sena, which has made a habit of criticising its partner indirectly, referred to the NDA as “Thugs of Hindustan” in an editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna and claimed the Supreme Court verdict didn’t give the government a clean chit.

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