New Delhi, Aug 22 (PTI) A fresh controversy broke out on Saturday involving the Rafale deal after source-based media reports claimed that the CAG has submitted its performance audit on defence offset contracts to the Centre with no mention of any offset deals related to the purchase of the fighter aircraft.
Seizing on these reports, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi made a fresh attack on the government over the fighter jet deal, prompting Union minister Piyush Goyal to hit back, saying he is welcome to fight the 2024 general elections on the issue.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman also asserted that the CAG report on Defence Offset Performance will be tabled in the forthcoming session of Parliament and the contents will be known only after that.
In a tweet, Gandhi tagged source-based news reports, which claimed that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has dropped audit of Rafale offset deal.
One of the reports quoted 'people involved with the audit' to claim that 'the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has informed the federal auditor that Dassault Aviation, French manufacturer of Rafale, has said that it will share any details of its offset partners only after three years of the contract.' 'MoD has denied any information related to the Rafale offset deals to the audit,' the report said.
'Money was stolen from the Indian exchequer in Rafale,' Gandhi alleged in his tweet without elaborating, and also quoted Mahatma Gandhi's words: 'Truth is one, paths are many'.
In a sharp retort, Goyal, who is Railway Minister and a senior BJP leader, claimed that many in the Congress have confided that Gandhi's obsession with Rafale is damaging the party.
'Many of Rahul Gandhi's Congress colleagues confide in private that Rahul's obsession with Rafale to wash off his father's sins is damaging the party. But if someone is wanting to self-destruct, who are we to complain? We invite him to fight the 2024 elections on Rafale,' Goyal tweeted.
Reacting to the controversy, Sitharaman said the CAG report on Defence Offset Performance will be tabled in the forthcoming session of Parliament.
'The C&AG Report...Defences Offset Performance was scheduled to be tabled in Parliament during the budget session (2020). The session ended, before date, due to COVID. Now the report will be placed in the next session. The contents will be known only after that,” Sitharaman said in a series of tweets.
Observing that the first Rafale fighter jet was handed over to India in October 2019, she said, 'There is a year-wise phasing of how much offset obligation the companies/OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) have to fulfil. MoD (Ministry of Defence) informs me that claims of such obligations being fulfilled are coming in.' Tagging the media report which was cited by Gandhi, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury tweeted, 'Now the CAG! Can any Constitutional Authority remain independent under this Modi government? Rise in defence of the Indian Constitution.' Several other Congress leaders, including spokesperson Pawan Khera, attacked the government over the media report.
India last month received its first batch of new multi-role fighter aircraft in two decades with the arrival of five Rafale jets.
The NDA government had inked a Rs 59,000-crore deal in 2016 to procure 36 Rafale jets from French aerospace major Dassault Aviation after a nearly seven-year exercise to procure 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force did not fructify during the UPA regime.
The Congress had alleged irregularities in the Rafale deal, claiming that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost higher than what was finalised by the UPA government during negotiations for the 126 jets.
The government and aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation strongly refuted these allegations. In a verdict in 2018, the Supreme Court had given clean chit to the government on the deal.
The political controversy relating to the deal peaked in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and during the campaign Gandhi had launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Congress had lost the polls with the BJP getting a massive mandate. PTI SKC KR DP ASK PYK PYK