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Rahul Gandhi visit for petty gain, says Manohar Parrikar, Congress chief hits back

Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar questioned Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s “sincerity and purpose” of visit to his office, ostensibly to inquire about his health, after Gandhi claimed at a rally in Kochi, Kerala, that Parrikar had claimed he had nothing to do with the Rafale jet fighter deal.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2019 23:07 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress President Rahul Gandhi addresses party workers at Talkatora Stadium in New Delhi. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday hit back at Congress president Rahul Gandhi and questioned the “sincerity and purpose” of the latter’s visit to his office, ostensibly to inquire about his health, after Gandhi claimed at a rally in Kochi, Kerala, that Parrikar had claimed he had nothing to do with the Rafale jet fighter deal.

Gandhi, in an open letter to Parrikar released late in the evening, said he had indeed made a “strictly personal” call on the former defence minister in Panaji on Tuesday “driven purely by my empathy for your situation.” He claimed that he had not shared any details of the conversation they had and claimed that in two speeches since then, he had only referred to what was already in the public domain.

Parrikar, who has been undergoing treatment for a pancreatic ailment, wrote in his letter: “Without any prior information, you called on me and inquired about my health condition. We have a healthy political tradition in India to rise above bipartisan considerations and wish even opponents a quick recovery from any ailments. I received your visit in that spirit, fighting as I am with good medical care, a severe ailment. I appreciate your kind gesture.”

In the letter he wrote to the Congress chief, copies of which were distributed to the media, Parrikar said that reading “media reports covering your visit to my office has caused me distress”, adding that he felt “let down that you have used this visit for petty political gain”.

Parrikar was defence minister when the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government signed the Rs 59,000-crore government-to-government deal with France in 2016 for 36 Rafale jet fighter planes. It replaced the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.

The Congress has alleged irregularities in the deal, claiming that the price at which India was buying the aircraft was Rs 1,670 crore for each, three times the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the fighter jets. The NDA has denied any wrongdoing in the transaction, which has become a Congress campaign issue ahead of this summer’s general elections.

Gandhi said in Panaji on Tuesday that he had visited Parrikar to wish him a speedy recovery. At an event in Kochi later, Gandhi said Parrikar had said he had nothing to deal with the new Rafale deal. He didn’t say where Parrikar had made the remarks he quoted him as making.

“In the five minutes you spent with me, neither did you mention anything about Rafale, nor did we discuss anything about or related to it. Nothing whatsoever about Rafale was even mentioned in your meeting with me,” Parrikar said in his letter.

He said: “The fighter aircraft have been procured following all stated procedures keeping national security as top priority and that the Inter Government Agreement and the procurement of Rafale are as per Rafale procedures.”

“Paying a courtesy visit and then stooping so low as to make a false statement for petty political gain has raised in my mind question about the sincerity and purpose of your visit,” Parrikar said, admitting that he was battling a life threatening illness.

“Due to my training and ideological strength, I wish to serve Goa and its people against all odds. Little did I know you had other intentions,” Parrikar said.

Goa’s Leader of the Opposition, Chandrakant Kavlekar, who was present at the meeting between Gandhi and Parrikar, claimed on Tuesday that the Rafale deal did not figure in the 10-minute meeting.

Gandhi, in his response, noted that in April 2015, when Parrikar was inaugurating a fish market in Goa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the Rafale deal in France with then French President François Hollande .

“It is also a fact that you clearly stated to the press that you had no idea about the new deal engineered by the PM. This has been widely reported in all sections of the media,” Gandhi wrote. “Again, it is a fact that there is an audio recording of your own Cabinet colleague in Goa, claiming you told ministers in a cabinet meeting that you have the RAFALE papers in your “bed room”, implying that you have power over PM Modi and his cronies.”

Gandhi was referring to a leaked conversation in which Goa’s health minister Vishwajit Pratapsingh Rane is purportedly telling an unidentified person that Parrikar told his cabinet colleagues that he had files related to the Rafale deal in his bedroom. Rane has called the audio tape “doctored” and Parrikar described it as a “a desperate attempt to fabricate facts.”

“Parrikar Ji, I empathise with your situation. I understand the immense pressure you are under after our meeting yesterday. Pressure that has forced you to take the highly unusual step of demonstrating your loyalty to the PM and his cronies by attacking me in this uncharacteristic manner,” Gandhi wrote in the letter. “Normally, I would have refrained from this exchange. Unfortunately, your leaked letter has forced me to clarify my position on this unfortunate and unnecessary controversy.”

First Published: Jan 30, 2019 23:06 IST