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NEW DELHI: The Congress on Tuesday cornered the Modi government over the Rafale aircraft deal, questioning why it was deliberately obfuscating facts and changing its standpoint on the multi-billion dollar defence pact.
The party’s pointed queries were directed at defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman after she recently said the government cannot disclose details of the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from France as it is “classified information.”
“As per Article 10 of the Inter-Governmental Agreement between Governments of India and France on the purchase of Rafale aircraft, the protection of the classified information and material exchanged under IGA is governed by the provisions of the Security Agreement signed between Government of France and Government of India in 2008,” Sitharaman said in a written response to a query by SP leader Naresh Agrawal in Parliament.
This is an about-face from the defence minister’s insistence, during a press conference in November 2017, that she was “not shying away from giving the figures”. Sitharaman had claimed she could “any time prove that the deal we obtained is far better” than the one negotiated by the erstwhile UPA regime.
Why is the Defence Minister going back on her words? What is the Govt hiding in the Rafale deal? #UTurnSarkar… https://t.co/rttYb68A1D
— Congress (@INCIndia)
In the wake of this refusal to divulge “comparative costs per aircraft” by the Center, Congress president Rahul Gandhi alleged that a major scam was afoot in the mega defence deal.
“The Defence Minister says that we will not reveal the amount paid for buying Rafael aircraft. What does this mean? This only means there is a scam. Modi ji personally went to Paris, he changed the deal. The whole country knows it,” Rahul said outside Parliament on Tuesday.
The Defence Minister says that we will not reveal the amount paid for buying #Rafael aircrafts. What does this mean… https://t.co/mzQFfqfoYL
— ANI (@ANI)
Earlier in November, the Gandhi scion had claimed that the defence minister’s “boss” – an oblique reference to PM Modi – was attempting to silence her on the matter.
“Dear RM, what’s shameful is your boss silencing you. Please tell us :
1. Final price of each Rafale jet?
2. Did PM take CCS permission before announcing purchase in Paris?
3. Why PM bypassed experienced HAL & gave the deal to AA rated businessman with no defence experience?,” he had tweeted.
Madam Defence Minister, these questions by the Congress President are still awaiting answers from you…. https://t.co/QWerycWAmm
— Congress (@INCIndia)
The jibe came after a seething Sitharam called out the Congress for its “shameful and unfounded allegations” against the Rafale fighter jets deal.
The Congress has alleged that there are irregularities in the deal for buying 36 Rafale fighter jets off-shelf from France, claiming that they were being bought at a price higher than negotiated in the previous multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) deal under which 126 fighter jets were to be bought, and included a number of fighters being assembled in India.
The party has claimed the “per aircraft pricing” in the 126 MMRCA project, under which 108 of the jets were to be manufactured by defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics in India after transfer of technology (ToT), stood at Rs 526 crore.
As per the deal inked by the NDA government, which does not include any ToT, each jet comes for around Rs 710 crore. But the per unit cost zooms to almost Rs 1,640 crore if the overall deal is taken into account, which includes a deadly weapons package, all spares and costs for 75 per cent fleet availability and performance-based logistics support for five years, among other things, as reported by TOI earlier.