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Rahul Gandhi attacks PM Modi on Rafale; France says can’t reveal details on sensitive deals

Rahul Gandhi alleged that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had spoken “untruth” “under pressure from Modi” when she claimed that the Indian government could not reveal details of the deal due to a confidentiality clause in the agreement with France.

india Updated: Jul 20, 2018 19:22 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rafale deal,France,Rahul Gandhi
The NDA government under the Bharatiya Janata Party signed a government-to-government deal with France in 2016 to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets. (PTI Photo)

Hours after Congress president Rahul Gandhi triggered a row in Lok Sabha on Friday over the price of Rafale fighter jets, the French government asserted that a bilateral “security agreement” signed in 2008 “legally binds” India and France to protect the “classified information” provided by the partner (in the case of sensitive deals).

A French spokesperson said in Paris that such information could impact the security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of India and France.

“We have taken note of the statements of Mr Rahul Gandhi before the Indian Parliament... As the President of the Republic said publicly last March 9…‘In France as in India, when an agreement is very sensitive, we can not reveal all the details’,” the spokesperson of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs said.

He said the provisions of the security agreement “naturally apply” to the intergovernmental agreement for the Rafale fighters concluded in September 2016.

Earlier in Lok Sabha, Gandhi in his speech during the debate on the no-confidence motion alleged that a businessman friend of PM Narendra Modi benefitted to the tune of Rs 45,000 crore in the controversial Rafale deal and the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman “lied under pressure from the PM” to the nation.

The allegation drew a quick and sharp denial from the government, with Sitharaman claiming that the then defence minister in the previous UPA government, AK Antony, had signed with the French government a secrecy clause and the current government just followed it. The French spokesperson was referring to the same agreement.

“In the absence of specificities about the commercial and technical negotiations relating to the Rafale deal, which in terms of operational benefits is a remarkable one, playing political football on this issue would be the most inappropriate thing to do,” said strategic affairs expert Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (retd).

The Congress had alleged in March that the Modi government caused a loss of Rs 12,632 crore to the public exchequer by signing the Rafale deal.

Quoting figures from Rafale maker Dassault Aviation’s March 8 annual report, the Opposition party alleged India had paid Rs 351 crore more for each jet than other Rafale customers such as Egypt and Qatar. However, Dassault Aviation said the figures had been misinterpreted to conclude that India had ordered expensive warplanes.

Time and again, the Congress has asked the government to reveal the price of each aircraft but the Centre argued that the details cannot be disclosed as there is a clause on “classified information” in the inter-governmental agreement.

However, the government has told Parliament twice that each basic Rafale fighter costs Rs 670 crore but the price did not cover associated equipment, weapons package, India-specific enhancements, maintenance support and services.

First Published: Jul 20, 2018 19:02 IST