The NDA government has declared war against the Congress's offensive on the Rafale deal. The Modi government on Monday indicated that instead of merely countering the opposition, it is ready for a "battle of perception".
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman said: "The deal narrative that Congress is setting is a propaganda that has international ramifications. The BJP will aggressively counter it. Senior leaders, including myself, will tour India if need be to send across the message. The perception within the BJP is that Rafale info is not trickling beyond Delhi. We recognise there is a perception battle. We will fight it."
Sitharaman's declaration of war came after Congress president Rahul Gandhi turned up the heat against PM Narendra Modi by asking why the price of the 36 Rafale aircraft bought from the French company, Dassault, was not made public and why businessman Anil Ambani's company, Reliance Defence, got the offset contract at the cost of public sector's Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
The bitter war of words in an acrimonious atmosphere between Congress and BJP aggravated on Monday when the BJP dragged in Rahul's brother-in-law Robert Vadra into the ugly row, claiming that Congress is raking up Rafale as, during the UPA rule, it tried to help controversial arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari who has "links with Vadra".
The Congress appears to be enjoying the BJP and the government's visible discomfort over the deal and demands for making public its fine print. It has created multiple flash points to keep its offensive alive and is managing to get the support of the opposition parties and even some BJP allies. The BJP is being forced to change strategy.
While sources had indicated that Sitharaman could address reporters, the BJP fielded its junior agriculture minister Gajendra Shekhawat.
Shekhawat told reporters: "Rahul Gandhi has been misleading the country by comparing the cost of an "unloaded aircraft" with a "fully loaded aircraft".
The present Rafale deal is almost 20 per cent cheaper than the UPA deal." Charging the Congress president with "lying", Shekhawat said on different occasions, Gandhi has already quoted three different prices of the aircraft.
On Congress charge that HAL was rejected and Reliance Defence selected for the offset contract due to the Modi government's intervention, he clarified: "An agreement between HAL and Dassault could not come through. That's why the deal was never finalised. The UPA government was trying to use arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and Robert Vadra as middlemen. Now, Congress wants to kill this deal to seek revenge for its earlier failure."
"The French government said that the statement of Hollande (published by French publication Mediapart) renders no service to France. Hollande is facing allegations of corruption and had gone back on his statement.