New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi led a blistering Congress attack on Narendra Modi on Saturday as he asked the Prime Minister to come clean on former French President Francois Hollande’s remarks that contradicted the Indian government’s stand on the Rafale deal.
“It is very important for PM now to either accept Mr. Hollande's statement or state that Mr. Hollande is lying and tell what the truth is,” the Congress president said at a press conference at the AICC headquarters in Delhi.
“It is a question of the dignity of the office of Prime Minister. It is the question of the future of our jawans and the Air Force,” Gandhi said, adding that for the first time, “an ex-French President has called our PM a thief”.
Hollande told a French media outlet on Friday that the Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the India partner in the Rafale fighter jet deal and not given them a choice. “I want to just tell you that Prime Minister is speechless after taking money from your pockets and placing it in Anil Ambani’s pockets,” the Congress chief said.
He added, “Anil Ambani has never built an aircraft in his life. He floated his company few days before the deal. Yet, the deal was taken away from HAL and given to Anil Ambani, who has a Rs 45,000 crore debt.”
Focusing his attack only on the PM, he said defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman or finance minister Arun Jaitley didn’t sign the contract, Modi did and so he must be the one to give answers. “When I put these facts in front of PM Modi, he couldn't meet my eye. The country's “chowkidar” turned out to be a thief,” Gandhi said, demanding the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee.
The Prime Minister had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets for Rs 58,000 crore after holding talks with then French President Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.
Earlier, in a tweet, he said Modi had betrayed India’s soul with “clear-cut corruption” in the contract. “The PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a One Hundred & Thirty Thousand Crore, SURGICAL STRIKE on the Indian Defence forces. Modi Ji you dishonoured the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India's soul,” he wrote.
He arrived at the mammoth figure by adding the value of offset contracts, saying the actual benefit due to the deal is of USD 20 billion, equivalent to Rs 1,30,000 crore.
The Congress chief has repeatedly targeted the PM and Sitharaman over the fighter aircraft deal, demanding their resignation over alleged corruption and cronyism.
Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, had chosen Anil Ambani’s firm as its partner to fulfill offset obligations of the deal. The government has been maintaining it did not have any role in selection of the offset partner by Dassault.
"The PM personally negotiated & changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani. The PM has betrayed India. He has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers,” Gandhi had said on Friday.
Hours after Hollande’s remarks, the French government issued a statement denying the claims. It asserted that French companies have the full freedom to select Indian firms for the contract. It added that it was not involved in any manner in the choice of Indian industrial partners for the Rafale deal.
"The French government is in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners who have been, are being, or will be selected by French companies," it said. Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, also said it decided to make a partnership with the Anil Ambani firm in accordance with the policy of 'Make in India' and the decision was purely its own.
But the clarifications have not stopped the Congress from going on the offensive, with several other leaders lambasting the government, saying that the “truth has come out”.
Senior party leader Kapil Sibal said Hollande had “spilled the beans” and it was time for the Modi government to “come clean and tell the truth”. Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said ‘facts’ have cut through the ‘fog’ and obfuscation and smokescreens won’t cover the ‘tracks of corruption’.