The Congress has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of misleading the Lok Sabha by not revealing the price of the Rafale fighter jets bought from France and indicated it could move a motion of breach of privilege against them.
“Deluding and misleading the people of India, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister sought to lie on the floor of Parliament. Neither the revelation of the commercial cost of Rafale aircraft will violate any secrecy agreement with the French government nor will it reveal any classified or protected information,” former Defence Minister A.K. Antony and senior leader Anand Sharma told a press conference.
Party sources said that consultations will be held with legal experts and the leader of the party in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, will decide on moving a privilege motion against Modi and Sitharaman in a day or two.
Antony and Sharma referred to the discussion during the no-confidence motion against the NDA government in the Lok Sabha on July 20 and said the Prime Minister sought to “hide behind a cloak of pseudo nationalism” in the Rafale deal and said the truth was that the Modi government was “guilty of compromising national interest and national security”.
The two leaders said that “shoddy cover-up, self defeating assertions and deliberate lies were being dished out to divert, dupe and deceive”.
“Grave apprehensions and claims of insurmountable loss being caused to public exchequer stand exposed as government refuses to state the truth,” they said.
Rejecting the government contention that the deal was covered by a secrecy clause under which the price cannot be revealed, Antony said the agreement between the governments of India and France in 2008 during the UPA government does not mention that commercial cost of procurement of defence deals cannot be revealed.
“The scope of the agreement only extends to tactical and technical details of weaponry relating to the capability of the platform in question and its performance and tactics in combat and does not include commercial details and costs. It is clear that the Prime Minister and Defence Minister misled the nation,” Antony said.
Claiming that the per aircraft price of Rafale as per international bid in 2012 during UPA government came to Rs 18,940 crore for 36 aircraft, the leaders said the Modi government purchased the same number of aircraft for Rs 60,145 crore and asked BJP to explain the extra amount of Rs 41,000 crore paid from public money. “This price is apparent from the ‘Annual Report, 2016′ of Dassault Aviation,” they said.
They contended that under the law, the government was bound to provide full information to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence and the Comptroller and Director General of India (CAG) and asked why the Modi government was not disclosing the commercial cost of the deal.
Antony and Sharma referred to two replies given by the Defence Ministry in 2016 and 2018 in Parliament revealing the price to be approximately Rs 670 crore per aircraft and asked why was the Defence Minister lying today.
They also quoted an interview given by French President Emmanuel Macron to a prominent news channel in India saying that if the Modi government wanted to disclose some of the details with the opposition, it can do so.
“Prime Minister Modi in Parliament took refuge in the statement released by the French government. Modi government must tell that the price of Rafale is not a secret, its specifications and weaponry are. The statement said the agreement ‘legally binds the two states to protect the classified information provided by the partner that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipments of India and France’.”
The Congress asked where had the French government even said that the price of Rafale aircraft cannot be disclosed.
The two leaders also referred to answers given by the UPA government between 2010 and 2013 regarding the price of acquiring INS Vikramaditya, upgrade of Mirage aircraft, procurement of Sukhoi aircraft and development of Kaveri engine.
The BJP however attacked Congress President Rahul Gandhi for his remarks on the ‘secrecy pact’ in the Rafale deal, calling him irresponsible for “misleading Parliament” and for dragging French President Emmanuel Macron into the matter.
It also advised Rahul Gandhi to “do homework and improve understanding” of India’s foreign policy and security issues.
“Rahul Gandhi is irresponsible; he makes false statements in Parliament. He was irresponsible on two fronts: First, by saying there was no confidential agreement (between India and France on the Rafale fighter jet deal); and second, by dragging French President into an internal political debate,” Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters here.
“This is unfortunate. I have often said that Rahul Gandhi needs to improve his homework. Now I have to add that his understanding of (Indian) foreign policy and national security and strategic concerns also need to be upgraded,” Prasad said.
During the no-confidence debate in Parliament on July 20, Gandhi had said that there was no secrecy pact on the Rafale deal, alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had “lied” to the nation” about it.
“I met the French President and asked him if there was a secrecy pact with India. He told me that no such pact was signed between the two countries. He said that he had no hesitation in saying this and that I can tell this to my country,” Gandhi had said.
Prasad said that the Congress was worried over the “transparent and honest” functioning of the BJP-led government and was hence making allegations about the Rafale deal.
“We can say with complete responsibility that Rahul Gandhi clearly misled the house when he said that there was no confidentiality agreement. His reference to the French President’s conversation was formally denied the same day by the French government,” the Minister said.
He added that sensitive armed forces operations can’t be made public, a fact which was acknowledged in Parliament by A.K. Antony and Pranab Mukherjee, both Ministers in the then UPA government. (IANS)