Rafale row resurfaces as Congress demands JPC probe
The Congress on Saturday claimed it has been vindicated after French online journal Mediapart reported that a judge in France will probe into suspected “corruption and favouritism” in the ₹59,000 crore Rafale deal with India for 36 fighter jets.
The BJP, however, played down the appointment of the judge in France to lead a judicial investigation, saying the development was outcome of a complaint by an NGO and should not be seen as a matter of corruption.
Randeep Surjewala, the Congress’s chief spokesperson, cited the latest development and said Prime Minister Narendra Modi must “submit” its government to a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC). Congress has made this demand earlier as well.
Surjewala described the development as “a scandalous expose of Rafale scam” that has led to “loss to public exchequer”. “The French have ordered an investigation into the Rafale deal for corruption and influence peddling. The sweetheart deal is now exposed. It calls for a thorough JPC probe. Will the PM (Prime Minister) answer to the nation and when will the government submit to a JPC probe?” he asked.
But BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the French development was akin to a competent authority in India writing down in a file that “please act accordingly” when a matter is brought before him; he accused the Congress of spreading lies and misconceptions over the issue.
Surjewala maintained that it is not a Congress versus Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) issue, but a matter related to national security.
Mediapart reported the “highly sensitive probe into the inter-governmental deal signed in 2016 was formally opened on June 14”. It said the development was confirmed by the Financial Crimes Branch of the French Public Prosecution Services on Friday. The French website carried a series of reports on alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal in April.
The criminal investigation, Mediapart said, will “examine questions surrounding the actions” of former French president François Hollande, who was in office when the Rafale deal was inked, his successor, Emmanuel Macron, the then economy and finance minister, and foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who held the defence portfolio then.
India ordered Rafale jets in September 2016 as an emergency purchase through a government-to-government deal that soon became controversial.
The Opposition, led by the Congress, has claimed the price at which India was buying Rafale aircraft now is ₹1,670 crore for each, three times the initial bid of ₹526 crore by the company when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was trying to buy the aircraft.
The BJP’s Patra also alleged that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is acting as an agent of rival defence companies and being used as a “pawn”. “Probably, he is acting as an agent or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company,” Patra said.