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Rahul Gandhi demands parliamentary probe in Rafale jets deal

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday stepped up his attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley on the Rafale jets deal

india Updated: Aug 31, 2018 00:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi,Rafale jets,Arun Jaitley
Congress president Rahul Gandhi addresses a press conference on demonetisation and Rafale Deal, at AICC headquarters, Akbar Road, in New Delhi, India.(Vipin Kumar/HT PHOTO)

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday stepped up his attack against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley on the Rafale jets deal and reiterated his party’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the contract.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) responded soon after, alleging that the Congress was making excuses to cover up for its own inability to strengthen the Indian Air Force (IAF) when the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power.

“(Arun) Jaitley is writing lengthy blogs but why is the government silent on the demand for a JPC probe into the deal? Jaitley is scared to ask the Prime Minister about constituting a JPC,” Gandhi told a news conference at the party headquarters in Delhi.

“Why did you (Modi) buy an aircraft of Rs 520 crore at the cost of Rs 1,600 crore? Who were you trying to benefit?” he added.

Later in the evening, Gandhi tweeted that the government had not initiated a JPC probe within the 24-hour deadline he had prescribed the previous day. “Dear Mr Jaitley, I guess your boss refused to hold a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the GREAT RAFALE ROBBERY? Too much to hide, too scared to face the people, I suppose...”

The NDA government’s decision to enter an $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. This replaced the UPA decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, saying that the price at which India is buying the aircraft now is Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the Rs 526 crore 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.

The deal has also become controversial on account of the fact that one of the offset deals signed by Dassault is with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity for an offset deal.

Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.

“It is a clear case. Anil Ambani had never manufactured aircraft. He had a debt of Rs 45.000 crore. He set up a company some days before the deal was signed. On the other hand, HAL has been manufacturing aircraft for last 70 years and has no debts,” Gandhi said.

He and Jaitley had sparred on social media on Wednesday over which government had struck a better deal. Jaitley said the current deal also includes customised weaponry and the aircraft being supplied now are “fully loaded” and wrote a 15-point questionnaire to Gandhi in a blog.

Gandhi said Thursday that instead of telling the nation who benefited from the deal, Jaitley was asking questions from him. “He can ask but the government needs to give answers to my three questions and order a JPC probe.”. The BJP hit back soon after, with a party spokesperson accusing Gandhi of having nothing new to say. “You first need to get your facts rights about the pricing. This kindergarten debate was rightly pointed about Mr Arun Jaitley. Rahul Gandhi has quoted seven different figures of the Rafale aircraft so far,” Sambit Patra said.

First Published: Aug 30, 2018 23:35 IST