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Congress likely to move privilege motion over Rafale deal, BJP hits back

Congress leader Anand Sharma said the party leadership would take a call on whether to move the privilege notice in a day or two.

india Updated: Jul 23, 2018 23:54 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rafale deal,Privilege motion,Rahul Gandhi
Congress president Rahul Gandhi walks back after hugging Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Monsoon Session of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, in New Delhi on July 20.(PTI Photo)

Keeping up the pressure on the government on what it claims are irregularities in India’s acquisition of Rafale fighter jets from France, the Congress is likely to move a privilege notice against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman for allegedly misleading the Lok Sabha, party leaders said.

In response, the government, which has maintained that the deal is above board, but specific details sought by the Congress can’t be disclosed because of a secrecy agreement with the French, criticised the Congress for undermining the sanctity of the privilege motion and strongly defended the contract saying the 2016 deal under the NDA cost Rs 66 crore less per aircraft than a deal proposed by the UPA government in 2011.

On Friday, Rahul Gandhi raised the issue in Parliament, even naming Sitharaman, provoking a vehement response from her. On Monday, Congress leader Anand Sharma said the party leadership would take a call on whether to move the privilege notice in a day or two.

Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said any party was well within its rights to do this, but referred to the importance of maintaining the sanctity of privilege motions.

“We have seen public interest litigations turning into publicity interest litigation. A privilege motion has certain seriousness. Its sanctity should be maintained,” Prasad said. The allegation that the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister misled the parliament regarding the pricing of the Rafale is “baseless, mischevious and also irresponsible”, he added.

The Congress fielded a battery of senior leaders, including former defence minister AK Antony, to step up its attack on Modi and Sitharaman.

It was during Antony’s tenure that India picked Rafale jets over Eurofighter Typhoons in January 2012 after French firm Dassault Aviation emerged as the lowest bidder for the medium multi-role combat aircraft tender for 126 planes.

Antony, in whose tenure the secrecy pact was also signed, dismissed as “totally wrong” the government’s claim that a secrecy clause in the pact was forcing it to not reveal the price details of the deal.

“The scope of the agreement only extends to tactical and technical details of weaponry relating to the capability of the platform in question and its performance and tactics in combat and does not include commercial details and costs,” he added.

“They have to reveal the price details of each aircraft. The more they are trying to hide, the more suspicion there is about the deal,” Antony said.

Prasad shared copies of six parliamentary answers in which Antony and Pranab Mukherjee declined to divulge details of matters of strategic importance citing national interest. “We feel both of them were right in not bringing in public matters that could impinge upon national security,” Prasad said. “Rahul Gandhi is behaving irresponsibly….when he was caught misleading the house with reckless allegations, he pushed Antony forward to defend his case.”

He also attacked the Gandhi family.

“Dynsastic parties are always a crowd around a family. This is true of the Congress party. Since a member of the family has resorted to falsehood, the crowd around the family has no option but to collectively sing the tune of falsehood. This is what has happened today,” he added.

The Congress levelled a series of charges against the government regarding the deal, and the government responded to each.

Analysts said the matter is unlikely to end with this, though.

First Published: Jul 23, 2018 23:54 IST