Rahul calls Modi ‘thief’ in political war over Rafale; BJP hits back

New Delhi, Sep 22 : A political war broke out on Saturday with Congress President Rahul Gandhi terming Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “thief” and “corrupt” in the Rafale deal as the BJP hit back saying the Gandhi family is out on bail and is the “source of all corruption in the country”.

As the controversy over former French President Francois Hollande’s remarks that the Modi government asked them to chose a private firm as offset partner in the Rafale deal snowballed, both the Defence Ministry and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad maintained that the Indian government had no role in the choice of the offset partner.

Both suggested that Reliance was chosen by Dassault as early as 2012 much before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister. However, the Congress rejected their claim on Dassault-Reliance deal in 2012 and asked them to produce the relevant records.

Earlier, both the French government and Dassault Aviation contradicted Hollande’s claim on choosing of Indian industrial partners.

Rahul Gandhi led the Congress charge on Saturday following Holland’s remarks and said the former French President had called him a “thief” in the Rafale deal. He also sought a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the agreement to purchase 36 fighter jets from France.

“Now what the ex-President of France is saying is that the Prime Minister of India is a thief… that is what the statement is saying. It is very important for the PM now to either accept Hollande’s statement and say that he is telling the truth or that Hollande is not telling the truth and here is the truth,” Gandhi said.

“It is the question of dignity of office of PM, it is a question related to defence, future of our jawans, Air Force. What I am surprised by is that the PM is completely silent,” he said, adding that he had a one-on-one meeting with Hollande.

Referring to Modi having earlier described himself as a “chowkidar (watchman)”, Gandhi said he had given a “free gift” of Rs 30,000 crore to his industrialist friend.

“We are absolutely convinced that PM of India is corrupt. The question is now clearly settled in the minds of the Indian people that the country’s watchman is a thief. This has gone in the minds of the people.”

He said the Rafale aircraft was negotiated for Rs 526 crore by the UPA government but purchased for Rs 1,600 crore by the Modi government.

Prasad attacked Gandhi and saying “irresponsible, shameless and baseless” remarks were being made against the Prime Minister by a family which is out on bail in the National Herald case and “is the source of all corruption in the country”.

“Rahul Gandhi’s statement is utterly irresponsible. He is playing into the hands of Pakistan and China by insisting on the disclosure of the price and other details which will help our enemies. I charge Rahul Gandhi is trying to help Pakistan,” he said.

Prasad said there was evidence to show that the choice of offset partner, a Reliance company, was made in 2012 itself during the UPA rule and a proper MoU existed between Dassault and Reliance industry as early as on February 13, 2013.

He said the choice of the private firm in place of HAL was entirely that of Dassault. “In fact the UPA had ditched the HAL,” he said.

“I don’t know the reasons and compulsions of the former French President to say what he had said,” Prasad said and made a reference to a question of conflict of interest being raised against the former French President whose partner’s film was co-produced by the private firm.

The Defence ministry also referred to the alleged conflict of interest and said the reported statement by the former President perhaps needs to be seen in its “full context”

The Defence Ministry also said that the decision on offset partner was a commercial decision of the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), which was taken as early as 2012 when the UPA was in power.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala termed Prasad and Defence Ministry’s remarks as “totally false and utter rubbish.”

“No such contract or MoU was ever signed between Dassault Aviation and Mukesh Ambani’s company. We challenge the Law Minister and Defence Minister to make any such record public. As there is no record, the lies will be exposed,” he said.

A Friday night statement by the French government said it is in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners who have been, are being or will be selected by French companies.

In its statement of Friday night, Dassault Aviation, manufacturer of Rafale jets, said the offsets contract is delivered in compliance with the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 regulations.

“In this framework, and in accordance with the policy of ‘Make in India’, Dassault Aviation has decided to make a partnership with India’s Reliance Group. This is Dassault Aviation’s choice,” it said.

Hollande was quoted in an article by a French website as claiming that the Indian government had asked the French government to nominate Reliance Defence as its India partner in the deal.

The deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015 and signed in 2016.

The UPA government was earlier negotiating a deal to procure 126 Rafale jets, with 18 to come in flyaway condition and 108 to be manufactured by HAL under licence.

(IANS)

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