France probe of Rafale deal reignites political row in India; from Rahul Gandhi to Sambit Patra, what politicos said

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A judicial probe in France into allegations of corruption and favouritism in the 2016 Rafale aircraft deal has sparked a political row in India with the Congress party taking aim at the Centre and demanding a joint parliamentary committee investigation and the BJP hitting back by terming their attacks as "lies".

French judge to probe alleged corruption in Rafale deal

Over the last two months, the French investigative website Mediapart has exposed a number of possible financial crimes in the Rafale deal, following which a fresh judicial investigation was ordered in France, reported The Wire.

A French judge has been appointed to lead a "highly sensitive" judicial probe into suspected "corruption" and "favouritism" in the Rafale fighter jet deal with India, French investigative website Mediapart had reported.

What is the Opposition saying

Congress leader >Rahul Gandhi on Sunday put out an online survey asking why the Narendra Modi government was not ready for it.

"Why is the Modi government not ready for a JPC probe? - guilty conscience, saving the friends, JPC does not want a Rajya Sabha seat and all of these are right," he tweeted, while putting out the survey.

Rahul has been alleging corruption in the fighter jet deal for long now and had made this as a major poll plank in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which the Congress lost.

Demanding a probe, Congress spokesperson >Randeep Surjewala told reporters in Delhi on Saturday, "Corruption in the Rafale deal has come out clearly now. The stand of the Congress party and Rahul Gandhi has been vindicated today after the French government ordered a probe."

France's National Financial Prosecutors' Office on Friday said it will look into alleged corruption in the sale of Rafale jets to India, news agency AFP reported.

"When the French government has accepted that there is corruption in the deal, should a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) probe be not held in the country where the corruption took place?" Surjewala claimed.

On Saturday, >Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is a Congress General Secretary, also tweeted about the controversy.

"Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth. - Lord Buddha," Priyanka Gandhi tweeted, while her brother took a swipe at the Prime Minister using the hashtag "#RafaleScam".

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Rahul had also tweeted on Saturday alluding to the scam, using the Hindi saying "chor ki daadhi mein tinka".

Senior lawyer >Prashant Bhushan, who had earlier moved the Supreme Court to demand a probe into the purchase of the aircraft, also responded to the development.

The Wire quoted Bhushan as saying: "The Mediapart story further corroborates the whole string of evidence which we had placed before the Supreme Court seeking an independent investigation into the deal. Unfortunately, the bench led by CJI Gogoi preferred to blindly accept what the government told them in a sealed cover note which was later found to contain much false information, including about a non-existent CAG report."

However, the apex court, then under Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, had dismissed a clutch of such petitions, rejecting the contention that there were grounds to file a FIR in the matter.

Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said that despite the new revelations made in the fighter jet deal, the Indian government was yet to respond to the controversy.

"Rafale was an inter-governmental deal," he said. "France has launched an investigation but the Indian government is silent. The prime minister, defence minister and Cabinet members are all silent."

The Congress leader pointed out that France had begun an investigation despite being the beneficiary in the deal. "The one (India) who lost is silent," he said, adding "In a healthy democracy, is it possible that taxpayers' money is being looted but there is no investigation or promise?"

Khera alleged that middlemen were involved in the Rafale deal and anti-corruption clauses were removed from the contract, NDTV reported.

BJP's response to the allegations

The BJP termed the Congress's latest round of attacks over the Rafale deal as "lies". Responding to the allegations, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra accused Rahul Gandhi of trying to mislead Indian people and spreading "canards".

"Just an investigation has been ordered, and a magistrate has been assigned to probe concerns raised by an NGO regarding Rafale (deal). France as a sovereign country is in its right to do so. But does that mean that corruption in the deal has been proven? We don't think so," said Patra.

"The way Rahul Gandhi is behaving, it will not be an exaggeration to say that he is being used as a pawn by competing companies. He has been lying right from the beginning on the issue. Probably, he is acting as an agent or some member of Gandhi family has been for a competing company," he told reporters on Saturday.

To reject the allegations of the Congress, Patra cited a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General and a Supreme Court verdict, both of which had found nothing wrong in the defence deal between India and France.

He blamed "corporate rivalry" in France, and vested interests of Dassault Aviation's competitors, for the fresh allegations.

Rafale deal

France's Dassault Aviation had initially won a contract in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India and had been negotiating with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Later, HAL was replaced by Reliance Group and a new contract for 36 jets was finalised. The announcement to buy the 36 jets was made in an India-France joint statement when Modi visited France in April 2015.

The new deal, in which Dassault had to supply 36 ready-to-fly aircraft to India in partnership with Anil Ambani's Reliance group, was worth Rs 60,000 crore.

The first fighter jet was handed over to the Indian Air Force on 8 October, 2019, in France, in a ceremony attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. The jets were formally inducted into the fleet on 10 September.

With inputs from agencies

Also See: Congress demands JPC probe into Rafale deal, urges Narendra Modi to order it

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