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Congress to launch people’s movement on Rafale deal to target Modi ahead of 2019 polls

At a meeting chaired by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the Congress Working Committee decided to weave the party’s campaign around alleged wrongdoing in the Rafale deal and bank frauds.

india Updated: Aug 04, 2018 23:33 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,Congress Working Committee,CWC
Congress’ campaign strategy follows an assessment that the corruption issue is going to hurt the BJP’s electoral prospects not only in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram state elections but also in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.(PTI)

The Congress’ highest decision-making body on Saturday decided to use the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal and suspected bank frauds as ammunition to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming state elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls

The Congress Working Committee (CWC) also decided to corner the BJP on the final draft of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam that excluded four million residents of the state; the party’s opposition to the report, aimed at identifying and deporting foreigners, has triggered BJP claims that the Congress was soft on illegal, mainly Bangladeshi, immigrants.

Congress retorted on Saturday by claiming that 82,728 Bangladeshis were deported from 2005 to 2013 when it was in power, compared to ust 1,822 fin the past four years of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

At a meeting chaired by Congress president Rahul Gandhi, the CWC decided to weave the party’s campaign around alleged wrongdoing in the Rafale deal and bank frauds, notably a Rs.14,000 scam at state-run Punjab National Bank suspected to have been carried out by fugitive diamond traders Mehul Choksi and his nephew Nirav Modi.

The party’s campaign strategy follows an assessment that the corruption issue is going to hurt the BJP’s electoral prospects not only in four states -- Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram -- where assembly polls will be held in November-December, but also the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, the Congress too was undone by corruption scandals.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the party will launch a ‘Jan Andolan (people’s movement)’ on the Rafale deal and bank scams and the details of the campaign will be chalked out in the coming days in consultation with state and central leaders.

Gandhi tweeted, “One of the highlights of today’s CWC meeting was Mr (A K) Antony’s brilliant description of the Rafale robbery: 130,000 crore stolen from the people of India and given to a friend who was 45,000 crore in debt.”

In 2016, India decided to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets in a fly-away condition from Dassault Aviation of France, scrapping an earlier agreement for 126 of the planes; State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was to make some of the aircraft in India through a transfer of technology clause. After receiving the revised deal, Dassault teamed up with Reliance Defence, a unit of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group.

Surjewala claimed that the Rafale deal had caused losses to the public exchequer, and exposed the BJP government’s “crony capitalism and compromise” of national interests.

“Neither the Prime Minister nor defence minister (Nirmala Sitharaman) is disclosing the price of the Rafale jets purchased by this government,” he said, adding the price fixed during the United Progressive Alliance rule was Rs 526 crore against Rs 1,676 crore for the jets purchased under the NDA, resulting in a loss of Rs 48,000 crore to the exchequer.

The BJP promptly hit back. “Congress has been acting as a loan giving agent over the years and the BJP government has had to act as a loan recovery agent. Modi government has zero tolerance for corruption,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said. He also referred to the CWC as a “corruption wali committee,” taking a jibe at the Congress.

A joint press conference or a day-long convention of the Opposition parties on the corruption issue is likely to take place this month. Congress leaders are soon going to fan out across the country to take the issue to the people in “every village and city” and also hold nationwide protest demonstrations against the Modi government, party leaders said.

One political observer said the Congress may have already lost the opportunity to make political capital out of the issue.

“The Congress’ move has come too late. They have already missed the bus. It should have come six months ago. I don’t say that people suspect this Rafale deal, but they have raised some question marks about it. But I think the Congress has woken up a little late,” said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies.

The Congress also plans to attack the BJP government on the flight of business barons Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya, who are wanted in India for financial misdemeanours, and on reports suggesting that Indian agencies had no adverse information against diamond trader Mehul Choksi, uncle of Nirav Modi, when Antigua conducted a background check on the PNB scam suspect before granting him citizenship in 2017.

The more than three-hour-long meeting was also dominated by the NRC issue as Assam leaders of the Congress, including former chief minister Tarun Gogoi, state chief Ripun Bora, legislature party leader Debabrata Saikia, and members of Parliament Bhubaneswar Kalita and Sushmita Dev gave a detailed briefing about the matter to the CWC for nearly 90 minutes, arguing that the party should not be seen as opposing the exercise. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s stand against the NRC was also discussed.

Surjewala said the CWC concluded that the NRC was a “Congress’ baby” given that the process was initiated by the UPA government in 2005 as a consequence of the Assam accord signed by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985.

“It was the during the Congress government that 80% of the NRC process was completed from by May 2016 (please check. By then Modi was in power) While the Manmohan Singh had sanctioned Rs 489 crore and appointed 25,000 enumerators for the process, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee had given just Rs 5 lakh for it.”

The CWC condemned the “deliberate and diabolic agenda of BJP to play politics to use NRC as a divisive and emotional tool for misleading” the people. “This is being done to deflect nation’s attention from the colossal failures and mega scams like Rafale,” Surjewala said.

“We are also aware that there are multiple anomalies in the final draft NRC list, leaving out 40 lakh people comprising indigenous Assamese people, Hindu Bengalis, Nepalis, Gorkhas, tea tribes, religious minorities, Indian citizens from other states domiciled in Assam as also serving and retired defence personnel and those who are in other public or private sector services,” he said.

The Congress reiterated that every Indian citizen must be given an opportunity to establish their credentials and prove their citizenship in a “just, equitable and humane manner without any fear or favour.”

Former Congress president Sonia Gandhi did not attend the meeting that also discussed the state of the economy, unemployment and the agrarian crisis. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh, and senior leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad, Ashok Gehlot, Ahmed Patel, AK Antony, P Chidambaram, S Jaipal Reddy and Jyotiraditya Scindia were among those present.

“As a team, we discussed the political situation in the country and the huge opportunity for the Congress to highlight issues of corruption and failure of the government to provide jobs to our youth. Thank you to all those who attended today’s meeting,” Gandhi said in a Twitter post.

First Published: Aug 04, 2018 23:32 IST