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Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019

On Rafale, Rahul Gandhi hurls 5Qs at Modi government, dares Nirmala Sitharaman to answer

On Rafale deal row, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to respond to the debate in parliament today.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2019 18:13 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi speaks in the Lok Sabha during the discussion on Rafale issue at Parliament in New Delhi, Wednesday
Congress President Rahul Gandhi speaks in the Lok Sabha during the discussion on Rafale issue at Parliament in New Delhi, Wednesday(PTI)

As Lok Sabha resumed the debate on the Rafale fighter jet deal on Friday, Congress president Rahul Gandhi led a sharp attack on the government for the purchase that his party said, had been made after overruling reservations expressed by the defence and law ministries. The Congress said it was in possession of government documents that indicated questions had been raised about the deal within the government on the deal. These objections, Gandhi alleged, were overruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“If there were objections in the defence ministry, we want to know on what basis did the Prime Minister overrule them,” said Gandhi.

Soon after, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman responded to the Congress’ charges in Lok Sabha.

Taking on the Congress, the defence minister said, “You stopped the deal, forgetting Air Force was suffering. You didn’t conclude the deal, because it didn’t suit you.”

Asserting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government gave priority to national security, Sitharaman said “Congress has built entire campaign on Rafale on falsehood and is misleading country both in and outside the House.”

Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had said that he would like her to respond to the five questions that he flagged for the government on the basis of this new information from a government file.

Watch: Rahul Gandhi poses 5 questions to PM Narendra Modi on Rafale deal

“She should say that there are no such files, we want that statement.... And if there were objections, we want to know on what basis did they overrule these objections... I doubt if she would not be able to answer these questions. These questions are important,” he said.

“Listen to the defence minister carefully (to see if she does answer them),” he said, suggesting that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too should answer questions on Rafale rather than trying to abuse him.

“He wants to abuse me its fine, I like it. But I am asking him politely why? He can abuse me as much as he wants once he answers my question,” Gandhi said, reiterating that if the Congress comes to power in 2019, there will be a criminal investigation into the deal.

Earlier today, senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Randeep Singh Surjewala had also come up with five questions for the Congress and accused the government of a scam of Himalayan proportions that they claimed, would eventually bury this government.

Gandhi and his party claim that they now had access to government documents that has file notings by an official that the maintenance terms for the fighter jets for the 36 Rafale jets was not better than that of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft, or MMRCA, that were being bought by the previous UPA government.

The Congress has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had waived the performance bank guarantee and sovereign guarantee against advice of the law and defence ministry. Surjewala also sought to counter the government’s offensive blaming the opposition of compromising national security. “There is an objection on the file that clearly says the delivery schedule of the 36 Rafale jets is not better than the MMRCA bid,” he said.

The controversy is about the NDA government’s decision to enter a $8.7-billion government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes made by Dassault was announced in April 2015, with an agreement signed a little over a year later, replacing the UPA-era agreement.

The deal has become controversial with the opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.